What to do in Japan
What to do in Japan
Our guide on what to do in Japan
Embrace the culture shock: a trip to Japan is all about getting to grips with its captivating culture and customs. Tea ceremonies, food tours, sumo matches, neighbourhood walking tours – we can organise a plethora of enticing activities to help get under the skin of this enthralling destination.
In the cities, join our expert local guides to take in all the most important temples, museums, and historic sites, as well using their insight to uncover lesser visited galleries, craft centres, or street food spots. We can also book you onto specialist experiences, either on private or small group basis: a soba noodle-making class, taiko drumming session, or even – a particular favourite – becoming Yoshi, Bowser, or Princess Peach on a go-kart tour of downtown Tokyo.
Beyond the cities you’ll also find Japan an outstanding outdoors destination: mountains, forests, and national parks all ripe for hiking, cycling, kayaking, and of course, at the end of an adrenaline-filled day…outdoor hot-spring bathing! Of particular interest, not just for dedicated hikers, are Japan’s captivating trekking routes: the Nakasendo, the Kumano Kodo, the Shikoku pilgrimage…each offering the chance to step back into (and through) ancient Japan, and each set against a backdrop of spellbinding rural scenery.
Above all else Japan offers variety. Whatever it is you’re looking for from your trip to Japan – ancient history, contemporary culture, artisan crafts, outdoor adventure – there’s a local guide waiting to showcase it, and a UTC expert who’ll be thrilled to make that connection.
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Best activities in Japan
Below you’ll find a sample of guided tours and activities we offer across Japan. This is just the tip of the iceberg: using our first-hand experience and extensive local contacts we can cater for all manner of interests. Let us know what intrigues you most about Japan, and we’ll map out the perfect itinerary.
Climb Mount Fuji
Climbing Japan’s most iconic summit is a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. The climb is a moderately challenging 5-10 hours depending on which of the four trails taken, the most accessible (and therefore most popular) of which is the Yoshida trail. Whichever you choose, you’ll be rewarded with breath-taking views – a bragging rights of course – as you approach the summit. If this is on your list of must-dos, visit between early July and mid-September when the mountain is officially ‘open’ as during this time the weather is mild, and the trails are clear of snow. The climb is popular with locals and tourists alike, and can become quite busy during Japan’s summer school holidays, reaching peak business during the ‘Obon’ public holiday week in mid-August. Please speak to your consultant about how best to time your visit. Accessible from the Fuji Five Lakes area, the climb can be done as (long) day trip from Tokyo, or during a longer stay in Hakone National Park.
Visit the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima
Accessed via a short ferry ride from Hiroshima, Miyajima, or “Shrine Island,” holds one of Japan’s top three beautiful sights. Built in the 12th century, Itsukushima Shrine is among Japan’s most iconic shrines, known for its dramatic red gate which, at high tide, appears as if its floating on the water. Miyajima’s main village is an extremely pleasant getaway from the mainland, housing a few shopping streets, a number of good eateries, and a selection of excellent ryokan or hybrid ryokan. Due to the rather uninspiring nature of accommodation across in Hiroshima, we often recommend staying over on the island for a more rounded experience, popping back over to Hiroshima should you wish to view the historical sites here.
Visit the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima
In 1945, Hiroshima was infamously devastated during the World War II nuclear atomic bombing attack that killed tens of thousands of people. Its Peace Memorial Park was built on land that was destroyed by the bomb, with a skeleton of a building called the A-Bomb Dome, providing a poignant reminder. A cenotaph monument holds the names of the bomb’s known victims. Despite it’s rather grim historical associations Hiroshima is an engaging and lively city to visit, known Japan-wide for its cuisine. Okonomiyaki – a fried savoury pancake with a DIY approach to fillings – is the most well-known dish; the local oysters and tsukemen ramen are also well worth a try.
Experience the contrast of Hiroshima on our Grand tour of Japan example itinerary
Stay on Naoshima - Japan's 'arty-pelago'
A beautiful, remote island, Naoshima not only offers a laid-back feel with sandy beaches and a sunny Mediterranean-like climate, but it’s a must-visit for art lovers. Since the 1980s the Benesse Corporation – a major educational provider in Japan – has installed museums and galleries devoted to contemporary art, as well as housing a regularly updated roster of outdoor sculptures and installations. The most famous is Benesse House, part-museum and part-hotel, making it the best place to stay on the island. One of the most unique destinations in Japan, you’ll also find magnificent architecture by Tadao Ando which harmoniously blend with the landscape. The island is located in the Seto Inland Sea just off Okayama (Benesse Corp’s base city) and combines well with visits to Hiroshima and Miyajima.
Visit Nara's deer park
Nara is an easy day trip from Kyoto: just 40 minutes on the quickest, direct train. Nara has several very worthwhile sightseeing spots – notably the enormous Todaiji Temple, and Horyuji which claims to be the world’s oldest wooden building – but it’s refreshing is Nara Park. Considered sacred by the locals, the wide park is open year-round, and houses some 1,200 friendly, free-roaming deer. The deer were once believed to be messengers of the gods, and are well used to human contact, happy to approached and fed.
Time your visit for 'Hanami' - cherry blossom viewing
Tourists flock in their droves from across Japan and the wider world to see Japan’s legendary cherry blossoms. Although there is no fixed date – predicted peak bloom dates are subject of much scrutiny and discussion within Japan each year – the season generally runs from around late March through to mid-April in key destinations Tokyo and Kyoto. A one-of-a-kind experience, the photo-ops are endless, with the trees bursting with colour, often complementing magnificent backdrops of temples, picturesque parks, or placid waterways. A pro-tip, should you wish to see the blossoms but avoid the crowds and peak season surcharges which come with them, is to head up north to Hokkaido later in the season, or down to the warm climes of southern island Kyushu earlier on.
Ride a Shinkansen bullet train
Japan’s public transportation is renowned the world over for its efficiency and ingenuity. Never is this more apparent than when taking one of Japan’s iconic shinkansen bullet trains, which race from city to city at speeds of up to 320 kph. A particular favourite at UTC is the run between Tokyo and Kyoto – just 2.5 hours at quickest route – which on good days can offer glimpses of Mount Fuji. Blink and you’ll miss it!
Ride on the iconic bullet train on our Essence of Japan example itinerary
Hike the Kumano Kodo trail
A pilgrimage trail that runs through the mountainous Kii Peninsula, Buddhist monks and other pilgrims have walked Kumano Kodo roads for more than a thousand years to reach some of the country’s most sacred temples and shrines. The collection of interconnecting ancient routes lead hikers through stunning landscapes, giant cedar forests, small villages, picturesque farmsteads, and soothing springs. A recommended route takes around 3 days’ in total, staying overnight in small village ryokan and minshuku along the way. You may also consider the Nakasendo route, which snakes through Japan’s stunning Alpine region, and was once the main highway between Edo (ancient Tokyo) and Kyoto (former capital).
Food & Drink
Dive into Japanese cuisine on a guided food tour
Japan is famous for its delicious cuisine and one of the best ways to experience its culinary scene is to join a food market tour, led by a local expert. Look beyond sushi to enjoy mouth-watering izakaya grilled meats and skewers, sample street food such as takoyaki octopus dumplings or okonomiyaki savoury pancakes, or slurp a delicious bowl of ramen – a national obsession. Food tour options are available in all major cities, bringing the chance to sample all sorts of gastronomic delights with insider tips, while learning about Japanese ingredients and how they’re used. Just ask your specialist for more details – but make sure not to be hungry when you do!
Enjoy a foodies Japanese dream on our Alternative Japan example itinerary
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