It’s hard to make a list of the best things to do in Japan, because there are just so many fun and interesting things to see and do in this island country. Every island in Japan is interesting, but most of the best tourist sights for a first timer are in the cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo.
There’s a huge variety of cultural attractions here, both old and new. You can ride a futuristic bullet train through the city, and visit a medieval Samurai castle in the same day. We’ve visited Japan a bunch of times over the years, but it never gets old. It’s one of our favorite countries in the world to travel.
Japan has lots of Samurai castles left over from its medieval period. These fortresses are impressive works of art and they can be fascinating to explore. There are a bunch of these castles scattered across the country, but two of the top ones to see are Himeji Castle (near Osaka and Kyoto) and Matsumoto Castle (near Tokyo). This is hands down one of my favorite things to do in Japan, and it’s pretty budget friendly! There are lots of kimono rental shops in Japan where you can try on the country’s famous traditional dress for a day.
My wife rented a kimono in Tokyo and we headed over to the famous Shibuya Crossing — perfect photo spot! We also did a kimono rental in Kyoto, which is loaded with great photo spots because of all the temples and shrines. If you ask the locals, they aren’t offended at all by foreigners wearing the kimono. Japanese people like to see others enjoying their culture.
Japanese gardens are famously pristine and photogenic. There are lots of them all over Japan, and they’re great for a relaxing walk. The gardens are nice year round, but they’re especially scenic when the fall colors start (usually in November). The pics below are from the garden at Tenryu-ji Temple in Kyoto.
It’s always fun to travel by train, and Japan has some of the best. The trains here are very efficient and some of the rural routes can be incredibly scenic. Japan’s futuristic bullet trains are called ‘shinkansen’ and they’re especially fun to ride since they can go hundreds of miles per hour. You can ride these in Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, and many other places in Japan.
It’s hard to beat the autumn season in Japan, when the leaves turn into bright colors of orange, red, pink, and yellow. The best time to see fall foliage in Japan depends on where you’re going, but for Kyoto and Tokyo it generally peaks in mid to late November. The locals call the fall leaf colors ‘koyo’ and they can be really stunning. The Nara Deer Park is famous for having hundreds of friendly deer you can feed and take pictures with. The semi-wild deer roam around the park freely and interacting with them can be lots of fun.
Also scattered around the 1,600-acre park are a bunch of old temples and shrines from hundreds of years ago, when Nara was the ancient capital of Japan. It’s easy to visit the Nara Park on a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto since they’re just a 30-60 minute train ride apart!