THE ULTIMATE JAPAN TRAVEL GUIDE
Japan is indeed one of the most beautiful countries in the world, filled with a mix of everything. From the hustle and bustle of Tokyo down to the laid-back Okinawa, it’s a timeless country respecting the past while leading the way with advanced technology.
While you may find Japan exceedingly modern, you will find vast opportunities to connect with their fascinating traditional culture. From exploring Japan’s rich culinary scene to wandering through the majestic temples, you will never run out of things to do when visiting the beautiful country.
Discover some tips and the 15 must-do’s with our ultimate Japan travel guide, where you can find out what to do, where to eat, and the best hotels to stay in on any budget!
Tips When Traveling to Japan
Besides planning where to go and which activities to do, what else do you need to know before taking your vacation in Japan? Here are a few tips and practical information to make your trip hassle-free:
1. Bring cash
Japan is a mostly cash-based society so bring all the cash you can and also ways to get more. Bring a coin purse as well, since everything below 500 yen is coins.
2. Learn Japanese
Learn Japanese, especially the phrase “Do you speak English?” for better communication. People in major tourist attractions or public transportation areas are where you can find help in answering your queries.
3. Get a stable Internet connection
Getting Japan wifi for tourists is essential to avoid getting lost. Through a stable Internet connection, you can make calls, translate Japanese, check maps, and research about the areas you plan to visit.
4. Save money when touring around
To save money venturing out of Tokyo, we recommend that you get a Japan Rail Pass. If you want to save up on meals, have your biggest meal during lunch, which are more affordable and come in big servings. Make sure that you track your expenses as well, which also keeps you aware of how much you spend.
15 Must-Do’s in Japan
1. See the beautiful and blooming cherry blossoms of Tokyo
One of the most popular sights are the cherry blossoms that bloom during the spring. These soft pink petals are an icon of Japan, with their blooming being one of the most-awaited times for tourists and locals alike. Once these perfect pink blooms appear, you will find many indulging in “hanami,” which translates to “looking at flowers.”
When in Tokyo, it’s best to visit the cherry blossoms between late March and early April. The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is one of the perfect areas to try hanami, with over a thousand cherry trees blossoming!
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Tokyo
After a quaint afternoon with the cherry blossoms, enjoy a filling meal at quality Sushi joint Sushi No Midori. Take note that it’s very popular, so make reservations in advance and avoid peak times (around 12NN and 7 PM).
Wondering where to stay? Shangri-La Hotel in Tokyo is a must for its luxurious amenities and pleasant staff. This 5-star hotel has the comfortable rooms and suites that aim to impress.
If you are on a budget, then the Remm Hibiya is an excellent choice. Located conveniently near train stations and with nearby restaurants, they have one of the best hotel deals in Tokyo.
2. Eat your way through the Nishiki Market in Kyoto
If you’re looking for an absolute feast in Kyoto, then look no further! The Nishiki Market is a 400-year-old local food market with a smorgasbord of delicious eats that range from national food traditions down to modern fusions of all over the world. The market is also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” because you can find top chefs and home cooks visiting to find local ingredients and culinary items.
It’s a feast where you can try free samples or spend merely a few hundred yen to get your taste buds excited. You can even book a guided tour to get a lot more information and avoid overpaying for food or samples.
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Kyoto
If you’re wondering where to stay in Kyoto, then Hotel Kanra Kyoto is an absolute dream. With its modern Japanese style architecture, you get luxury fused with a touch of tradition.
On a budget? No problem! The Toyoko Inn Kyoto Gojo-Karasuma offers excellent value and is located near subway stations and downtown shopping districts. While the rooms are small, it has many features to take advantage of.
3. Have a canyoning adventure in Minakami
For the adventurous souls who are always up for something new head to Minakami, offering bigger thrills outside the bustling city life. Known as one of the most significant canyoning destinations worldwide, you can find many tours in Minakami offering new experiences. There are numerous canyoning courses to choose from, depending on the thrill level you want.
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Minakami
Once you’ve completed the challenge (and burned quite a few calories!), head on to Tenmaru, a soba and tempura restaurant with delicate soba noodles and tempura with perfect crispness.
Looking for a place to stay? The Hoshi Onsen Chojukan is the perfect Ryokan to stay in. You’ll get to experience traditional Japanese accommodation and feel like you went back in time without foregoing luxury and comfort. Families and travellers looking for a sense of calm after canyoning will appreciate what the Ryokan has to offer.
Another excellent choice is the Hotel Yunojin, a budget Ryokan ideal for backpackers and groups of friends. There are also relaxing amenities and a restaurant serving up sumptuous meals.
4. Pay your respects at the Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima
The name Itsukushima means the “island of worship.” Also known as Miyajima, or “shrine island” in Japanese, the shrine is best known for their floating torii gate. Both the shrine and gate were built over water, which seems like it floats in the sea during the high tide season.
You will find majestic views when you enter the shrine complex, which consists of buildings a prayer and main hall, as well as a theatre stage.
While you cannot enter the shrine after sunset, you can still enjoy its illuminated island via boat cruises.
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Hiroshima
Head on to the Guttsuri-an for the ultimate Japanese dining experience. Though a hole-in-the-wall, this hidden gem has a lovely atmosphere and deliciously fresh food to choose from.
When looking for places to stay, the Sheraton Grand Hiroshima Hotel is an ideal choice with luxury and convenience in mind. It’s a one-minute walk from the Hiroshima Station, with the world-class rooms to ensure comfort and a fantastic experience.
The Candeo Hotels Fukuyama is also another excellent choice for those who are on a budget. Less than a kilometre from the city centre, you also get a relaxing room with free internet, a public bath on the rooftop, and flat-screen TVs!
5. Learn all about Japan’s famous beer in the Sapporo Beer Museum
Hokkaido is the home of beer in Japan, with Sapporo beer brewed in the area for over a century now. It’s the oldest and most popular beer in the country. In fact, it’s so popular that they opened up their own (and the only) beer museum in Japan.
The Sapporo Beer Museum shows the history of beer in Japan, as well as how the beer-making process is done. And for a small fee, you can taste test the beer to learn more about the differences and distinguish the flavors based on what you learned from the tour.
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Sapporo
You’ll find the Sapporo Beer Garden next to the museum, which consists of some restaurants and beer halls. One of the best choices would be the Kessel Hall, the largest dining hall with the best atmosphere because of its giant brew kettle. The rare lamb and unlimited beer will surely entice.
For luxury accommodation, the Karaksa Hotel offers one of the most comfortable rooms with a modern style but the natural atmosphere. Its minimalistic design will calm your mind.
When on a budget, the Jr Inn Hotel is another excellent choice. Though it comes at an affordable rate, you’ll be surprised that it has impressive amenities and clean rooms.
6. Take in the fantastic views from the Naminoue-gu Shrine in Naha
Naminoue stands for “above the waves,” and the Naminoue-gu Shrine has its buildings perched on a cliff above the beach and sea. This is why you are above the ways, seeing the wondrous views beneath you when visiting. It was once a sacred place of the Ruyuku Islands, dedicated to the source of all life in Okinawan mythology.
The main temple is beautiful and serene, a fantastic way to spend a quiet afternoon from the busy cities of Japan!
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Naha
If you’re looking for a filling and satisfying meal in Naha, Shuri Soba will surpass expectations. Here they serve fresh homemade Okinawa soba, which is made every four in the morning and matching with the transparent dash soup. It’s famous for locals as well, to the point that they may close because they run out of stock!
For accommodation, Hyatt Regency Naha gives you the superb experience with its dark and intimate setting. Close to the shopping streets and restaurants, this fabulous hotel will surely please any traveler.
Hotel New Okinawa is also an excellent choice for those on a budget, as it’s located in the heart of Naha.
7. Delve into the deep waters in the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Whether you’re with your family or friends, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is an absolute must-see. It’s known as one of the largest aquariums all over the world with the exciting attractions. You start the tour on the 8th floor, working your way down to the 15 tanks until you reach the main attraction, a lovely and healthy whale shark.
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Osaka
Tokisushi is a must-try when in Osaka, a small and friendly sushi bar made with fresh and quality ingredients. All sushi and its seafood are personally picked by the chef, with the right amount of fat from the fish.
When wondering where to stay in Osaka, The St. Regis Osaka Hotel is an absolute stunner. It’s a five-star hotel with majestic views of the city, with the excellent quality furniture and comfortable beds. You are also welcomed to the high-ceilinged lobby with well-trained staff for the ultimate experience.
If you are on a budget, an affordable choice (with value in mind) is the Guest House Neko Neko. It’s a dormitory-style lodge, which is a seven-minute walk away from the nearest train station. You can also have private rooms with free Wi-Fi and usage of bikes!
8. Capture the breathtaking views at the Yamakazi River in Nagoya
One of the most popular sights in Nagoya is the Yamazaki River, which is known as a “dankei.” What’s makes the river unique is that it connotes a valley, with an area where the trees would slope and cover the stream flow. Many people visit the river for the row of cherry blossom trees, indeed a picturesque sight!
It’s a must-see especially when the trees are in full bloom. Quiet and serene, it takes you away from the usual parks in more popular cities.
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Nagoya
If you’re hankering for good Tonkatsu, then the Miso Katsu is Nagoya’s number one specialty. It’s the thick miso sauce that makes Nagoya’s version different from the rest. With the tinge of sweetness to balance out the rich and earthy flavours, you will surely want to have seconds!
The Hilton Nagoya is an incredible place to stay when in the area. It’s effortless to go around as it’s in the center of the city. The elegant rooms are also perfect to unwind in after a busy day of sightseeing!
Though a bit farther from the city center, the Daiwa Roynet Nagoya Taiko dori Side is an inexpensive choice for accommodation. You have cozy rooms, free internet connection, as well as a sumptuous breakfast to wake up to.
9. Have a relaxing bath in one of the Onsen hot tubs
What’s fantastic about Fukuoka is that they have a wide selection of hot spring baths. There are a variety of hotels that offer spas and public baths, which provide the relaxing time that you deserve. Enjoy a cleansing, calming bath by yourself, with your partner, or even your whole family!
In Niseko, Onsens are abundant and with the quality hot springs where you can immerse yourself in. There are many choices of accommodation in Niseko, not only with the luxurious amenities but the fantastic and relaxing onsens you shouldn’t miss out on!
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Fukuoka
Whether you’re a local or tourist, the Yoshizuka Unagiya is one of the top restaurants to visit when in Fukuoka. They offer the excellent unagi, tender with a delicious sauce to match. Just prepare for the long queue!
The Nansuikaku offers one of the best accommodation in Fukuoka, boasting with outdoor and indoor hot springs. They have the chic furnishings and architecture to match its fabulous amenities.
The Obri VII Hakata is perfect for those on a budget. It has the bright and relaxing atmosphere that makes it nice to rest in after a long day. Plus, it’s very near modes of transportation.
10. Brace your fear of heights and head on to the Yokohama Landmark Tower
The Yokohama Landmark Tower is the second tallest building in Japan, almost 300 meters high. The structure offers one of the most majestic skylines of the city, particularly at night when all the lights are out. Below the observation floor on the 70th floor are a wide array of restaurants and shops where tourists can indulge in after taking their fear of heights to the next level!
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Yokohama
Head on to Chiso Kimura, a two-Michelin Star restaurant that makes it worth the walk from the Yokohama station. You have the quality sashimi filled with authentic flavours.
The Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu is a five-star hotel located in the heart of Minato-Mirai. It has the spacious rooms with a balcony that features exquisite views. You also have six sumptuous dining options with an indoor pool and luxurious interiors.
Backpackers and solo travellers on a budget will appreciate the Hotel&Hostel On The Marks Tokyo Kawasaki, which is near public transportation. You can choose between dormitory rooms, capsules, or private rooms. Small and cozy, it’s a cheap and clean area where you can meet new traveller friends.
11. Enjoy the waters at Lake Chuzenji in Nikko 102
Located in Nikko, Lake Chuzenji is a scenic lake from the mountains. The lake was formed after the eruption of Nikko’s sacred volcano, Mount Nantai.
The lake’s shores are undeveloped and forested, where you can find various waterfalls to cool off in. The lake is best to visit during October when autumn colours begin to show. You can hike, ride on sightseeing boats, and enjoy the panoramic views.
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Nikko
When looking for authenticity and traditional Japanese cuisine in Nikko, Komekichi Kozushi will not disappoint. With the best sushi and exceptional service, you will have the absolute dining experience at moderate prices.
One of the best hotels to stay in when in Nikko is the Kanaya Hotel Kinugawa. It has the homey vibe and hot spring baths for the ultimate relaxing getaway. Your rooms will have an outdoor seating area that overlooks the Kinugawa River, a beauty to wake up to.
If you’re looking to save on accommodation without scrimping on comfort, the Hotel Plumm is a good deal. This is a Ryokan with a bright atmosphere with the spacious and clean rooms.
12. Go skiing in Niseko
During the Christmas season, Niseko is the perfect destination for families and friends because of the fantastic slopes and mountains that make it ideal for skiing. Niseko is the biggest ski resort in Japan, made up of four areas. With the light powder snow and the spectacular views, you’ll surely have a fantastic time as you learn how to ski or snowboard.
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Niseko
When in Niseko, Abucha 2 is the perfect place for a warm bowl of hotpot. It’s one of the most popular restaurants in Upper Hirafu, so watch out for the lines.
Niseko is home to many lodges and estates for rent, with Aya Niseko being one of the newest luxury hotels available. With a wide variety of apartments and penthouses to choose from, you have the exceptional decor and the most comfortable rooms with sights to behold from the balcony.
For those on a budget, the Matthew Suites is an excellent choice, as it is only a five-minute walk from the ski resort. All rooms come with luxurious features without the high price, including flatscreen televisions, washing facilities, and a fully-equipped kitchenette.
13. Burn calories and hike in Fuji, Shizuoka
With various trails that lead to the fantastic views of the infamous mountain, adventurers and hikers will want to check this off their bucket list when in Japan. Just make sure to visit during the fall or winter season, as it can get particularly cloudy during the summer, blocking the views.
Recommended Hotels and Restaurants in Shizuoka
With authenticity in mind, you get the exquisite dishes in Hama no Kakiageya. The restaurant serves fresh seafood in the local family-friendly setting with unbeatable prices.
The Asaba located in Shizuoka is your ultimate luxury hotel with the wonderful amenities and rooms. They offer open-air baths and hot springs, as well as the traditionally-designed rooms to make it feel like you’re back in the past.
When on a budget, you have Hotel Ra Kuun, a cozy and comfortable hotel that boasts 24-hour spring baths and breathtaking views.
14. Bike your way around trails in Japan
Mountain biking is a fantastic way to tour Japan. Not only can you use it as an alternative to the daily commute, but with numerous biking trails around mountain lakes and small villages, one can explore the breathtaking views in peace. The best areas to go mountain biking in Japan are in the Hakuba and Nagano region, with the scenic and relaxing trails.
Many companies offer mountain bikes for hire at affordable prices, as well as bike tours around specific areas in Japan to explore as a group.
15. Travel in the Shinkansen
One thing to appreciate about Japan’s bullet trains (known as “Shinkansen”) is that they are a commuter’s dream: Fast, clean, comfortable, and frequent. It’s a must-do even if you aren’t going anywhere specific in particular because of its bullet speed that can go as fast as 320km/hr!
It can be quite expensive, though. However, you can make it worth your while by purchasing the Japan Rail Pass to use for long-distance travel. If you’re doing it purely for the experience, go for a very short ride or choose the less expensive destinations.
Wrapping It Up
Quite a few first-time visitors may find Japan intimidating from its prices and language barriers. However, there are ways on how to make your trip more affordable and pleasurable. One won’t need to spend thousands, nor should they fear to converse with the locals, as Japan is one of the most popular and tourist-friendly countries worldwide.
Do you have any suggestions or want to share your experiences on what to do when in Japan? Do comment down below; we would love to hear all about it!