There are tons of cool things in Japan you’ll want to see and do. One reason why so many travelers want to visit this fascinating island nation is that it is such a unique travel experience with its ancient culture and history juxtaposed with ground-breaking technology. That comparison is one of the most interesting things about Japan. If you love reading cool stuff about Japan, read on.
We have curated a list of 27 cool things in Japan you must see and do. Some you may recognize, and others you may not, but you’ll enjoy them all. And to travel to them all, make sure to have your Japan Rail Pass with you at all times. The JRPass is the cheapest and most convenient way to travel around Japan.
27 COOL THINGS IN JAPAN YOU MUST SEE
Visiting Mount Fuji is one of the coolest things to do in Japan. You need to include this visit in your itinerary to Japan! It’s a perfect, painting-like mountain. There are multiple places that you can visit if you want to admire Mount Fuji, namely Lake Kawaguchiko, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Saiko, Lake Motosu and Lake Shoji. One spot that you’ve probably seen on countless of photos is the Chureito Pagoda. From here you have an excellent view of the photogenic pagoda and Mount Fuji as a backdrop. Another fantastic spot is Iyashi no Sato, the site of a former village on the western shores of Lake Saiko. Here they reconstructed the traditional houses with thatched roofs. Another possibility is to visit Mount Fuji between April and May and go to the Fuji Shibazakura Festival, a beautiful flower festival.
If you’re more adventurous, you can even climb the mountain. The official season to do this is between July and September. It’s a sacred mountain, so many people make a pilgrimage to the top. This means it can get pretty busy, and it’s even been called the most climbed peaks in the world!
One thing to consider is that it’s not always possible to see Mount Fuji due to clouds and low visibility. So, always check the weather to make sure you pick the best day and have the highest chance of actually seeing this gorgeous mountain. This impressive mountain is definitely one of the cool things in Japan you must see.
Jeffrey and Lisanne blog at Chapter Travel.
Nara Deer Park
Nara Deer Park was a strange experience, but one of the more fun ones I had in Japan and one of the unusual attractions you can only do in Japan. A short train ride from Kyoto, you’ll find the town of Nara and its famous deer park. The deer roam around among the people and temples waiting for their little deer biscuits.
For around 500 Yen, you can get a small bundle of biscuit cookies for the deer. Once you have those, you’ll be the most popular person there (with the deer at least). All you have to do is hold out a biscuit, and the deer will flock to you. Just be careful! They can get a little aggressive and will tug on purses, backpack straps, and even loose clothing. Don’t forget, they are still wild deer.
After you’re done feeding the deer, take a walk around the rest of the park and admire the temples and solitude outside of the main walkway. There will be the occasional stray deer that may follow you, but far fewer people. Also, if you hold out a biscuit but don’t give it to them right away, they will bow to you.
Megan Johnson blogs at Red Around the World.
Making Plastic Food – Yamato Sample Factory
Japan is full of cool things to do, but one of the things we loved most was making a plastic food sample at the Yamato Sample Factory. This is one of the crazy fun things you can do in Japan,
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you know that most restaurants have plastic or wax samples of their food on display. They’re mostly very realistic and in actual size.
There are many options for different foods to make. We chose the simplest, the parfait ice cream sundae as we have a small kid. It took us around an hour to make our own perfect keychain sized parfait. Next time, we’re choosing something more complicated, like the ramen.
It was an awesome experience! One of the top cool things about Japan to experience.
Thais Saito blogs at World Trip Diaries.
If you think of Japan, then those cool sleeping pods made famous by Japanese businessmen must spring to mind. This is another one of those unique things in Japan. If you’re looking for the ultimate Japanese sleeping experience, then you have to try a capsule hotel, even just for one night. It might not be luxury 5-star accommodation, but it’s certainly a memorable night’s sleep (and don’t panic…it’s not quite as claustrophobic as it looks!)
In Kyoto, I stayed at Nine Hours capsule hotel. As with everything in Japan, they have a highly efficient system for checking in, complete with a corresponding locker and pod number plus some sexy slippers. Each pod had a blind that you could pull down for privacy.
I had a great night’s sleep, although it might have had something to do with the Japanese whisky the night before!
Becky blogs at Becky the Traveller.
Often perched high above a modern metropolis, Japan’s many beautiful castles hark back to the days of shogun and samurai. Originally built as military and administrative headquarters, many towns and cities – including Tokyo – developed around such castles.
Many of Japan’s castles share an architectural style that is unmistakably Japanese. Glistening white in colour and highly ornate, the palace buildings and dominating central tower are protected by equally elaborate guard towers and commanding entrance gates. The palaces and their grounds are commonly encased within a huge moat for added protection.
A number of Japan’s remaining castles were painstakingly restored following the Second World War. Yet there are twelve original castles in Japan that managed to escape war damage whilst also avoiding the natural disasters that regularly affect Japan. Perhaps the best known and most magnificent of Japan’s original castles is Himeji, which stands today as it did when it was built in 1609. These castles are truly one of the cool things about Japanese culture that I love.
James Davies blogs at Where You’re Between.
Talk about cool stuff in Japan, every year in August, for one week, Pikachus take over Yokahama, Tokyo. Giant Pikachus, tiny Pikachus, dancing Pikachus, Pikachus on stilts, Pikachus with water guns, cuddly Pikachus, Pikachu hats, Pikachu posters, Pikachus everywhere!
As soon as you step off the train into Yokahama, you are immersed into a world of yellow. It is quite surreal seeing giant Pikachus dancing in pink tutus! The whole atmosphere is fantastic and the music is very catchy. You certainly feel like a kid again.
There are different shows throughout the week culminating with a huge Pikachu carnival parade as the grand finale.
If you ever happen to come to Japan in the month of August, try to make sure it collides with Pikachu Outbreak, wear something yellow, and experience true Pikachu madness!
Anna Liddell blogs at My Travel Scrapbook.
Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing in Tokyo
Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing is the world’s busiest and is a must-see if you’re visiting Tokyo. Featured in countless films, over 2,500 people cross at every change of lights during peak times – but we never saw any collisions. It just seems to work!
The best time to visit the crossing is at night when the surrounding neon billboards are lit up. It’s like Tokyo’s version of Times Square. Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest times, particularly when a metro train has just pulled into Shibuya station. The best spot for an aerial view of the crossing is from the Starbucks on the second floor of the Q building – but get there early to grab a seat.
If you’re looking for cool places to stay in Shibuya, check out this list of both traditional and modern hotels in Shibuya.
Kylie Gibbon blogs at Our Overseas Adventures.
Cat cafés originated in Taiwan. Recently, similar cafés have been popping up in other countries, but the only country where it really blossomed and became part of a tradition is in Japan.
Being big cat lovers and keen on getting to know Japanese culture, we immediately went looking for a cat café. Unfortunately, once we were there, it was a bit disappointing. We were pretty excited to say hi to the cats, but the same could not be said for the cats themselves. They walked away, uninterested, to hide. Only when the owners of the café came in, they went to them to be petted.
Still, we don’t regret our visit as it turned out our mental image of a cat café was completely wrong. Those cats actually live in small palaces, and we were glad we could spend some quality time in their daily habitat.
Sylvia Van Overvelt blogs at Wapiti Travel.
Okunoshima is definitely the most unique place I visited during my month-long stay in Japan. The island is located in the Inland Sea of Japan, not far from Hiroshima, and it is also known as also known as Rabbit Island because it’s home to thousands of cute and cuddly rabbit who will jump all over you looking for treats as soon as you get off the ferry. However, this island also conceals a dark secret – it used to be home to a poison gas factory, a top-secret location where the gas that was used to kill thousands of people during World War 2 was made. Many believe that the rabbits are the offspring of the ones used for testing, but in fact, they were introduced to the island much later, in an attempt to exorcise its “dark past”. I warmly recommend learning about Okunoshima and visiting the poison gas museum before visiting, because this island is not just about cute rabbits – even though the bunnies alone are a reason to visit!
Margherita Ragg blogs at The Crowded Planet.
In any collection of most iconic images of Japan, you will find the bright red archways known as torii, either standing alone or lined up in avenues that you can walk through.
Torii are a shinto tradition, used to mark the transition between the profane and the sacred, hence they are usually found at the entrances to Shinto shrines. Passing through the archway is a reminder that you have moved from the ordinary world into the home of the kami (spirits). As is often the case, the traditions and icons of different faiths have blurred over time, such that you will often find torii at Buddhist temples as well, but not in such great numbers.
One of the best places to see torii is Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari-taisha, a large and grand Shinto shrine to Inari, the kami (spirit) of fertility, rice and industry. A popular way to give thanks to Inari is to donate a torii to the shrine, each one bearing the name of the donor in black text painted onto one of its pillars. The vivid red gates are lined up along trails behind the main shrine and are so numerous that they form long, winding avenues up the hillside.
Another popular torii to visit is the “floating torii” of Itsukushima Shrine, at Miyajima. Built out in the water so that it appears to be floating at high tide, at low tide, you can walk out across the sand to visit.
Where to stay in Kyoto, Japan City Center.
Kavita Favelle blogs at Kavey Eats.
Traditional Japanese Gardens
Garden design in Japan is an art form, held in equal regard to other art forms such as calligraphy, ikebana and tea ceremonies. They are one of the beautiful things about Japanese culture. Japanese gardens are universally acknowledged for their tranquillity and beauty. A visit to Japan would be incomplete without a visit to one of these perfectly designed spaces.
Recognisable elements include water, rocks, sand, bridges, lanterns, water basins and of course meticulously manicured plants. Each component is carefully selected and arranged to produce a miniature representation of nature that is a joy to visit.
Examples of this ancient art form can be found all over Japan, but Kyoto has a high concentration of stunning gardens to explore. Our favourite gardens in Kyoto are Ryoan-ji Temple for its dry Zen garden, Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Temple) and the stroll garden at Tenryu-Ji Temple pictured here.
Rachel Rodda blogs at Adventure and Sunshine.
Vending Machines in Japan
One of the most interesting things about Japanese culture is that you will see vending machines everywhere. Now if you’re thinking,”how can that be interesting if they sell drinks and snacks everywhere?” But it’s not just drinks and snacks — it is everything! One of the coolest things in Japan!
You can find hot noodles, fresh popcorn, socks, canned carrots, iPhones and anything technology-related. Have you bought earphones in a vending machine before?
One of my favourite things to try is the array of different cold and hot drinks you can find in a vending machine. I would suggest trying Pocari Sweat, which is a Japanese sports drink like Gatorade. And then I would just pick something random to try!
Nicole LaBarge blogs at Nicole LaBarge.
Japanese “Love Hotels”
Japanese “Love Hotels” are among the stranger and more unique accommodation choices out there (and yes, they are what you think they are). They’re aimed at couples and “romantic” backpackers who want to escape the shared dorm rooms and paper-thin walls of hostels and are after a more intimate and private experience. Pick your room and choose from one of many cool themes including Godzilla, Titanic and countless more. As well as amazing themes, rooms often come with a nice range of bonus features including jacuzzis, rotating beds and even complimentary condoms! While this type of accommodation may not be for everyone, it’s a perfect example of what makes Japan’s culture truly unique and special.
Jamie Campbell blogs at Gaijin Crew.
With any visit to Japan, I will organise at least one stay at a Ryokan, a hotel built around “onsens” baths, with the water sourced from surrounding hot springs. These hotels are more than just communal hot spring water baths, it’s like a package of uniquely Japanese experiences. The hotel guestroom will often be kitted out with heated tatami flooring and partitions, with a short-legged table and floor seats in the center of the room, to sit and swig on some green teas.
In the closets will be traditional kimono garb, which is often expected to be worn around the grounds of the ryokan hotel. Then, of course, there is the food, where multi-course “kaiseki” meals are included most ryokan stays, with meals set with all sorts of unusual Japanese bites, as well as the traditional favourites of sushi, sashimi, tempura, and maybe a tabletop hot pot or barbecue.
While at a Japanese ryokan onsen, make sure to learn about the proper etiquette for newbies visiting a spa in Japan.
Allan Wilson blogs at Live Less Ordinary.
Samurai warriors are a Japanese icon with a very interesting and powerful history. They were so influential in their support of the Shogunate (military dictator) that the emperor himself had less control over the state of Japan than the leaders of the Samurai. Before rising to power in the 12th century, the Samurai were from a powerful military caste and developed into provincial warriors before expanding their reach into all of Japan.
These warriors of Japan governed the country from 1185 and held some military power until the Shogun (highest status for a Samurai) handed power back to the Emperor in 1868.
The Samurai’s ancient code can still be seen today throughout modern-day Japanese culture. With a strong sense of honor and discipline, or “bushido” as the Samurai called it, by spending just a short amount of time in Japan, seeing this trait isn’t hard to see ingrained in Japanese society.
The history of the Samurai is extensive and intriguing. The best way to experience the life of a Samurai today is by visiting a museum, like the one in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Not only do they have displays of Samurai armor dating back 800 years, they also teach the stories behind the warriors that wore them.
You can also come face to face with the weapons of the time. Even though two swords were carried by Samurai, only very rarely were both used for combat. The second, smaller sword was used to commit suicide, or “Hari-kari”. This was to restore honor for the Samurai of defeated in battle. Guns were also used by the later Samurai after they were introduced by the Portuguese.
Samurai history is one of Japan’s most iconic historical figures and shaped a lot of the country that always a joy to travel.
Ben McLaughlin blogs at Horizon Unknown.
There are tons of cool places to eat and drink in Japan. When you think of Japanese food, the first thing that springs to mind is sushi. These delicate, bite-sized morsels are an icon of Japan, and while they are copied around the world, nothing compares to the real thing. In Japan, sushi is very simply vinegared rice with fish or vegetables. It is the detail and precision that goes into making it that is truly special. Sushi making is an art that is studied and practised for years. From Michelin starred restaurants to the most humble sushi bar, sushi chefs take extreme pride in the work – using the freshest ingredients and precise preparation. Japanese sushi is delicious and a must-have experience when you visit Japan.
Katy Clarke blogs at Untold Morsels.
The Japanese Snow Monkeys
The Japanese macaque monkeys – also known as the Japanese snow monkeys – that live just outside the town of Shibu Onsen are truly unique. They are the northern-most monkeys in the world and they’ve found a fascinating way to stay warm in the colder months.
The Japanese onsen baths are an important part of Japanese culture, but there is one area where the baths are used by monkeys too. That’s at Jigokudani Monkey Park, a must-visit if you want to see the Japanese snow monkeys bathing in hot springs with your own eyes. It’s an unforgettable experience and well worth the slightly long journey to get there.
Jodie Dewberry blogs at Ala Jode.
Watching sumo wrestling is one of the most unique things you can do in Japan. Sumo is considered Japan’s national sport and watching it is an interesting cultural experience with many rituals and traditions. There are ring entering ceremonies and each match starts with an elaborate ceremonial ritual which includes singing, salt-tossing and foot stomping – in fact the actual wrestling is the shortest part of a match. Professional sumo tournaments lasting fifteen days each take place six times a year in four cities in Japan. If you can’t attend a professional tournament but still want to watch sumo wrestling, you can visit a sumo stable (where the wrestlers train and live) to watch a morning practice session.
Matilda blogs at The Travel Sisters.
Daibutsu (The Giant Buddha)
Located a stone’s throw from Tokyo is one of my favorite sites in all of Japan: Daibutsu, aka the Giant Buddha. I’ve spent almost a year exploring Japan over several different trips (including living in a Buddhist monastery for half a year and hitchhiking around Okinawa) and one site I constantly return to is the Giant Buddha in Kamakura. This bronze statue of Amida Buddha dates back to the 13th century and used to sit inside a temple. The statue is almost 14m tall and hollow, which means you can even step inside of it for an interesting perspective.
Over the years, the temple was damaged by fires and floods, and eventually, the Buddha was left to sit outside in the open air. With Buddhism having such strong ties to Japan, this makes for a great day trip from Tokyo to help get a better understanding of the country’s religious roots. You can reach Kamakura in about 90 minutes from Tokyo by train and admission is 200 JPY per person.
The temple is open daily from 8am-5: 30 pm, but try to get their early to beat the crowd (you might be able to get a photo without people in the background if you get there first thing in the morning). No trip to the Land of the Rising Sun is complete without seeing this massive Buddha statue, but while this place is Instagram gold, please remember that it is a religious site so you should dress and behave accordingly.
Chris blogs at Lessons Learned Abroad.
Decorated Manhole Covers
Japan is one of those places that will blow you away for many different reasons – from the world-class culinary delights and super-efficient transport and technology to stunning natural scenery and beautiful places of worship, there are tons of interesting things in Japan.
One of my favourite reasons why Japan is a stand-out nation to visit is due to the high level of attention to detail and care that goes into pretty much everything. Where else in the world would a usually unexciting item like a manhole cover be transformed into something exciting and aesthetically pleasing?
As you walk the streets of this island nation, don’t overlook what’s under your feet! Each municipality in Japan has its own unique design adorning the manhole covers (drain covers) you’ll see on the city streets, some of them colourfully painted. I especially loved the designs in Osaka, with the city’s castle proudly featured. Add these to your Osaka itinerary and be sure to hunt them down and add them to you list of cool things in Japan!
Alyse blogs at The Invisible Tourist.
Its unique form and incredibly fast speed make the Japanese Shinkansen a staple of the country and of modes of transportation in general. The famous bullet train connects regions all over the country – there are almost 3000km of lines today and maximum speed can reach 320km per hour. Another thing that makes the Shinkansen stand out is its comfort and punctuality! Organization is a big part of Japanese culture and you can see it in action when traveling by using these trains. These trains are certainly one of the coolest things about Japan.
If you want to try the Shinkansen, consider buying a Japan Rail Pass on your trip to Japan. The pass is a very cost-effective way for visitors to explore the country!
Maria and Rui blog at Two Find a Way.
The Cup Noodle Museum, Ikeda, near Osaka
When you’re in the birthplace of instant noodles you REALLY should stop by and find out all about them. You can do that in Ikeda, near Osaka at the Cup Noodle Museum. It wasn’t just instant noodles that were invented here but also cup noodles. To celebrate that fact, the museum takes you through the history of the noodle AND then lets you make your own. I kid you not. You can make your own packaging, and then choose your own flavour. You even get to pull the handle that puts your noodles in your pot. Now if that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is! It costs 300 Yen, but you do get the whole experience and you get to take your noodles away and eat them for your dinner!
There are some seriously cool factory tours to do in Japan, but this has to be one of the best. A great way to learn about cool Japanese food and places to eat in Japan.
Sarah Carter blogs at ASocialNomad.
If there’s one thing that’s obvious, it’s that Japan often does things a little differently than the rest of the world. Case in point: machine-ordered ramen.
Elsewhere in Asia, ordering a delicious bowl of noodle soup is usually as simple as pulling up a chair and pointing to a menu. Many Japanese ramen joints though, presumably in a quest to make things as efficient as possible, add a layer of complexity (or ease, depending on your outlook) to the process.
As you enter one of these popular ramen restaurants (for example, Ichiran in the exciting Shibuya district), you’re immediately confronted with a machine lit up with a series of buttons, or, if you’re lucky, a touch-screen with English prompts. Insert your money, choose your style of ramen, and wait for it to spit out your order ticket. (Be sure to make your choice quickly, lest an impatient line-up of hungry Tokyoites forms behind you!)
With your meal ticket in hand, all that’s left to do is to pass off your ticket to the chefs and wait for that umami-filled steaming bowl of deliciousness to arrive at your booth. Once you’ve let the brilliant flavors hit your tongue, there will be no doubt that the experience of ordering ramen from a machine will have been well worth any confusion.
Ryan blogs at Treksplorer.
Surely Japanese toilets are the last thing you think about as you plan your travel adventure to Japan, or even consider one of the cool things in Japan. But you better familiarize yourself. Here is a place where your interaction with the local toilet can involve anything from acrobatic contortions to a high-tech misadventure with water hoses. The Japanese take their toilets very seriously.
It is in Japan where you find the gold standard of toilets. Some of the amenities include adjustable water temperature and pressure, separate posterior and front wash, adjustable air freshener and heated seats. Many toilets have noisemakers designed to camouflage normal toilet noises. The noise can be anything from classical music to birdsong. My take on this is that if you really want to disguise what you are doing in the bathroom, playing increasingly loud classical music from your toilet is not really going to fool anyone.
Accompanying the toilets is the most bizarre collection of signage I’ve ever seen.
Needless to say, a toilet of this high caliber will cost you. Prices on these high-end units range from the high $300s to over $5,000 and beyond. So, are they worth it? If you ask people that have never been exposed to them, like most Westerners, they’ll say, “Are you kidding?! Of course not!”
But I asked Western expats living in Japan how they felt about these toilets. Every single person I asked said they loved them. Some told me one of the biggest challenges of returning home was adjusting to life without the Japanese toilet. In fact, there is a popular refrain among the expat community in Japan that says, “once you spray the crack you never go back.”
Talek blogs at Travels with Talek.
The Ocean Expo Park
If you are planning a trip to Japan, then it would well worth your time to island-hop over to Okinawa, specifically to the Motobu Peninsula that holds the Ocean Expo Park.
The Ocean Expo Park is not your everyday maritime playhouse. This park stretches over three kilometers along the coast. It boasts museums, a traditional Okinawan village, beaches, and arboretums. The park’s most popular attraction is the best aquarium in Japan, the Churaumi Aquarium.
Thousands of tourists flock to this museum every year to soak up the wonders of the underwater world. Outside, there are pools where dolphins perform and manatees swim in lazy circles. Inside, people take hours to weave through the underground hallways. Brilliant colored fish and hidden sea monsters draw the stares of every age. Then it all leads to the main event, the Kuroshio Tank.
The Kuroshio Tank is one of the largest tanks in the world. It contains almost two million gallons of water to support a variety of species. Hundreds of people can gather around this multi-story tank to see the endangered whale shark. These massive fish fill one’s entire view with their grace and beauty.
I stood there for over an hour just watching them swim around and around while manta rays wove in and out. It took me two days to get my fill of this park, and I enjoyed every second marveling at the beauty of the world that this park so naturally encompasses. So, if you feel like exploring a section of Japan unlike any other, then head over to the Ocean Expo Park.
Chelsey blogs at The Ninja Gypsy.
Omiyage is a unique piece of Japanese culture which displays their thoughtful of friends and family, and how those in Japan carry their loved ones with them wherever they go. The giving of Omiyage, which means simply “souvenir,” is actually a deep and storied practice that goes much deeper.
If you bring home key-chains to those you know after a long trip, you might have a lot to learn about Omiyage! The practice is rather detailed, with presents brought back from time spent abroad that are very carefully and beautifully wrapped, and very often edible. Omiyage is more than just a gift or a souvenir, but rather a Japanese extension of the idea that when you travel somewhere, you can bring back a part of the foreign world with you for those you know and love.
Omiyage is also appropriate in nearly any travel situation. No matter if you’ve gone on a business trip, traveled for a weekend, or gone on an extended vacation, Omiyage is not only appreciated – it’s expected. Very often Omiyage is an obvious representation of where you’ve traveled – large, colorful, and full of frills. It’s definitely one piece of Japanese culture that you can incorporate into your own travel!
Justin and Tracy blog at A Couple for the Road.
Think of cherry blossoms and you think of one of the coolest things about Japan. Tracking the blooming of the cherry blossoms – sakura in Japanese – becomes a national obsession in spring. The flowers are at their peak for about a week only, so taking advantage of them when they bloom is essential. The best way to fully appreciate them is to do what the Japanese do – have a hanami (a ‘cherry blossom viewing party’).
People stake their claim under the trees early in the morning with bright blue tarps. Colleagues, friends or family members arrive later and the fun begins. Wherever sakura trees are in bloom, you will find groups of Japanese eating sushi or obento (lunch boxes) and drinking sake. Many famous hanami places, where there are lots of cherry trees, also have food stalls where you can buy sake or freshly cooked takoyaki (octopus balls) and other snacks.
James blogs at Travel Collecting.
What was your favorite in this list of 27 cool things to do and see in Japan? Tell us in the comments!
I’ve had some wonderful experiences in Japan. Some of my favorites include a Japanese temple stay, a stay at a Japanese ryokan onsen (thermal bath) and my absolute favorite, a night tour of a Okunoin, the 1,200 year old cemetery.
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