A trip to Japan is full of unique experiences. From the food to the temples to the megacity of Tokyo and unusual animal encounters, the most difficult thing is deciding what to do in Japan!
We have traveled to the country a number of times and find different things to do in Japan every time we visit. Yet there are still so many Japan attractions we haven’t seen. So I asked some expert travellers to share their most unique places to go in Japan.
Whether you are looking for unique Japan experiences, cool things to do in Tokyo, or things you can only do in Japan, you are sure to find something to add to your itinerary from our list of unique things to do in Japan.
Unique Things to Do In Japan
Watch the Sumo Wrestling
Recommended by Matilda from The Travel Sisters
Watching sumo wrestling is one of the most unique experiences in Japan.
Sumo is considered Japan’s national sport and has a very long history dating to ancient times. Sumo matches include many traditions and rituals (in fact the actual wrestling part of a match is very short) including singing, salt-tossing and foot stomping.
One of the most exciting ways to see Sumo is to attend a professional Sumo wrestling tournament where the crowd is very passionate about the matches.
There are six grand tournaments (each lasting fifteen days) held each year in Japan in four different cities, including three tournaments in Tokyo and one in Osaka.
Each Sumo tournament day is long, starting with the lower ranked wrestlers in the morning. Most spectators show up in the afternoon in time to watch the top ranked wrestlers compete.
Tickets for sumo tournaments go on sale over a month in advance and you can buy them online from abroad. It is best to purchase tickets as soon as they are available because the best seats get booked early.
Click here to check availability and prices for Sumo Tournaments
Expert Tip: If you are not in Japan during a grand sumo tournament but still want to watch sumo wrestling, some sumo stables (houses where the sumo wrestlers live and train together) allow visitors to come and view their early morning practice sessions.
The Sumo Stables are also a great option if you are looking for cheap things to do in Tokyo as you can visit some stables independently.
If you want to guarantee a spot, book tickets as part of a tour. Click here for details.
Unfortunately, things can and do go wrong when you travel.
World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
Bathe at Yunessun Onsen
Recommended by Ben from Horizon Unknown
Full of interesting and quirky culture, there are plenty of unique things to do in Japan. Onsens are a long time tradition in Japan’s history and culture, but Yunessun Onsen in Hakone puts a modern spin on these hot baths.
While there is a regular onsen at Yunessun, there are other pools which you won’t find anywhere else.
It is these pools that make this one of the most unique places in Japan! Bathe in red wine, sake, coffee and syrup, it really is a one of kind Japanese onsen experience.
There is no specific order and you can spend as long or as little time in these heated pools as you would like to.
There is one important thing to note. Tattoos are heavily restricted. You will be outright refused to enter the traditional, non-clothing section of Yunessun, but for the unique pools, there is another option.
Waterproof bandages are placed over any inked skin before you’re allowed to enter.
Yunessun Onsen is a very unique place to visit and swim in Japan. The warm water is soothing but the themes of each pool is what makes it a memorable travel experience in Japan and one of the most fun day trips from Tokyo.
Click here to check the price to visit Hakone Yunessun Hot Springs
Dine with Robots
Recommended by Alex Waltner from Swedish Nomad
Visiting the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo is one of the most fun things to do in Japan and will give you a memorable experience for a lifetime. It is located in Shinjuku, and while it certainly is a tourist trap, it is the most enjoyable tourist trap ever.
Imagine dancing robots, role playing actors, neon lights, glowsticks, robot fights and dancers everywhere while electro J-Pop is being blasted from the surround system.
It’s a surreal experience, and for the first 10 minutes you will have no clue on what to look at. But you will definitely have a smile on your face and it will be fascinating. It is certainly of the more unique things to do in Tokyo.
The Robot Restaurant Show is not something you can explain properly with words, you need to experience it yourself. Come here with an open mind and just be blown away of the crazy things you will see during the show. It has to be one of the most fun places in Japan!
We recommend you book your tickets in advance as it is a popular show.
Avoid the queues. Click here to purchase priority lane Robot Restaurant tickets.
Stay in A Ryokan
Recommended by Sarah Carter from ASocialNomad
Japan is known for its tradition and culture and there’s no better way to experience it than to immerse yourself in the culture of a ryokan stay, certainly one of the most unique things about Japan.
A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn, developed to support Japanese travellers during the Edo period (1603-1838). At the end of a long day of travel, visitors would enjoy the solace of their private room and a shared bathing experience in a traditional onsen bath.
Staying in a ryokan today in Japan enables you to wear a traditional yukata, experience Japanese Haute cuisines while dining traditionally in your room, enjoying the onsen bathing experience and sleeping on a traditional futon.
21st-century facilities such as private bathrooms, TVs and wifi are also available at some ryokans too.
You can choose to have a full cultural immersion in your ryokan stay, but Japanese hosts will explain ryokan etiquette even if you don’t speak Japanese, and are the most genial of hosts.
A stay in a ryokan is one of the best things to do in Japan and is a most unique and Japanese experience to complement your visit to the country.
Click here to search unique ryokan stays in Kyoto
Night Walk in Gion, Kyoto
Recommended by Sylvia Van Overvelt from Wapiti Travel
Gion is one of Kyoto’s most popular districts for a reason. As you walk through the authentic streets it feels like you have been flashed back into time.
With some imagination we could have been back in ancient Japan and it is one of the best places to see in Japan.
The well-preserved and beautiful wooden facades often hide up-scale teahouses and expensive restaurants. These establishments attract a high-heeled clientele, exactly the clientele that can afford the services of a Geisha.
The existence of these posh establishments explains why the Gion district today is also one of the last remaining real geisha districts. Those Geisha’s are another reason why tourists flock to this place in the evening.
Geishas have a remarkable appearance. Their richly decorated kimonos and perfect white faces with fierce red lips ensure a stunning appearance.
To see a Geisha you could book one of the shows that are especially organized for tourists, at least if your budget allows it. Alternatively, and this something many tourists do, you could just take a walk around the Gion district at night.
The latter is at least as much fun as the first. We loved wandering through the charming old streets of Gion, hoping to spot a Geisha with every corner we took.
As you explore the district you come along many amazing places including some magnificent temples. Still the icing on the cake are the Geishas.
So when you are in Kyoto, take a night walk in Gion. It’s one of the best things to do in Kyoto at night.
>> Find the perfect Kyoto guided tour for you here.
Explore Kyoto in A Kimono
Recommended by Paul Fournier from JourneyCompass
A kimono is a traditional style of Japanese clothing, similar to how ryokans are a traditional style of Japanese accommodation. They both uphold past traditions.
It’s a great thing to do because while you’re in Kyoto, the heart of traditional Japan, you get to immerse yourself even further into its traditional culture.
Some kimono rental shops go a bit overboard on the kimono styles though. When choosing a shop I recommend having a good look at their designs first.
I can recommend Kyoto Rental 41 as their designs are elegant and not overly flashy, though their English is sparse.
I’m not much into selfies and the like, but my girl-friend in Kyoto was, and kimonos give a great opportunity for that, obviously. But don’t fret, even for guys there are good looking kimono designs. They’re more subdued, and less flower power.
While strolling around in your kimono you can then visit attractions in Kyoto such as Kiyomizudera, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Arashiyama, etc.
The cost of renting a kimono is very dependent on the outfit + accessories, if you include hair styling, and of course length of rental. We paid about 1000 yen for the both of us.
Click here to check the price for one day kimono rental in Kyoto
Attend a Bon-Odori Festival
Recommended by Sander from Arscurrendi
Bon (also known as Obon) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honour the spirit of one’s ancestors. With this family-based custom often comes a dance, known throughout Japan as Bon-Odori.
Bon is usually celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, which turns out to be 15th August in 2019.
Let me to tell you what it’s like to attend this festival. Since Bon-Odori is always in summer — the seventh lunar month is usually July or August — people who attend go dressed in traditional Japanese summer clothing: a yukata or a light kimono.
The festival revolves around one central stage made of wood and metal, where musicians and singers take the lead on the celebration.
Around the stage, various concentric circles are formed by people dancing along to the folk songs, which are different in every region in Japan.
The carnival around the stage is filled with food stalls, rides, summer games and other food or fun-related activities.
Whereas we were invited to a company-organised Bon-Odori, they’re usually an initiative of local governments or municipalities.
If you ever get the chance to attend one of these festivals, I would highly recommend you to do so as it is one of the more different things to do in Japan.
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Unique Food Experiences In Japan
Make Your Own Cup Of Noodles In Osaka
Recommended by Thais from World Trip Diaries
Did you know you can make your own personalized cup noodle in Japan?
The Cup Noodle Museum gives you the opportunity! There are two locations: Yokohama and Osaka.
There, you’ll see the museum, with the evolution of the cup noodle through time, and the whole process of making it. You can then go ahead and make your own cup noodle. If you are looking for fun things to do in Osaka with kids, this is a great option.
First, you grab yourself a cup and personalize it. You can draw, write, do whatever you want (on the outside of the container, of course).
Then you put your dry noodle inside. There’s no touching, though, it’s all mechanic and fun and choose your flavors, toppings, and you seal it up.
With your cup ready to be consumed, you CAN make yourself a nice bag that makes your cup noodle looks like it’s floating and take it home.
But if you’re hungry, you can eat right there, at the tables provided! Wash it out and it becomes a unique souvenir from Japan.
The museum is free to enter but to make your cup noodle, you’ll pay around $3 per cup. Both locations are easily accessible by public transport.
It’s fun and easy to understand, even if you don’t speak Japanese. And even if you don’t like cup noodles, it’s one unique and very Japanese experience!
Explore Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo
Recommended By Markus Kampl from The Roaming Fork
If you are looking for unique Tokyo experiences, one of the must-do activities when visiting Japan is to explore the Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo.
A haven for fresh seafood, there are stalls, restaurants, and shops dedicated to providing visitors with a large variety of delicious eating options, as well as cooking utensils and a host of quality knives.
And although the main fish market, which included the famous tuna auctions, moved location in 2018, this part of the market remains open and continues to thrive.
The best way to explore the market is to wander the well laid-out laneways, moving from stall to stall, trying as many of the smaller dishes and snacks that your stomach, and wallet, allows.
A few must-try seafood recommendations include the exquisite otoro bowl (fresh high-end salmon belly that literally melts in the mouth), Japanese spider crab legs that have been grilled to perfection over charcoal, dried octopus that goes particularly well with local beer, huge freshly shucked oysters, and my favourite, the delicacy that is the murasaki sea urchin.
If your legs need a break from the roaming, step inside one of the small, air conditioned sushi restaurants, where you can enjoy mouth-watering plates of the freshest seafood prepared by chefs right in front of you.
Throughout the market there are a few non-seafood snacks to look out for. Especially an egg dish called tomago, a sweet and fluffy omelette that is a unique specialty of the market.
And for the those with a sweet tooth, there are a few luscious treats on-hand including warabimochi, the decadent ichigo daifuku, and a range of super fresh and not-so-cheap seasonal fruits.
The Tsukiji Outer Market is one of Japan’s great culinary experiences.
The Tsukiji Outer Market is serviced by Tsukiji Train Station, on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line. Note the market is closed on Sundays and some Wednesdays.
>> Click here to find out more about a Tokyo cooking class
Take a Cooking Class in Osaka
Recommended by Amber Hoffman from With Husband In Tow
Osaka, Japan is considered the culinary heart of Japan. While Tokyo does have its own incredible culinary scene, Osaka and its residents are food crazy.
The city is filled with so many great places to eat. In the city’s Dontonbori district, you can’t walk 10 feet without coming across another restaurant or street vendor cooking up local Osaka food specialities.
From okonomiyaki, the Japanese style pancake made famous in Osaka to takoyaki, fried octopus balls, you won’t go hungry.
In between delicious bites, learning how to make some of these traditional dishes from Osaka is one of the more unique things to do in Osaka. Cooking classes are a fun and hands-on way to learn about a country’s cuisine.
Whether set in a fancy cooking studio or in the private home of a local resident, taking a cooking class is the perfect activity for singles, couples, and families who love to cook.
Beyond simply learning how to cook dishes from a foreign cuisine, cooking classes, especially in Japan, highlight traditions and customs surrounding the cuisine.
In Osaka, you can take a cooking classes that begins with a Japanese matcha tea ceremony and includes learning about how to properly taste sake.
Most Osaka cooking classes include how to cook the local Osakan dishes as well as how to cook Japanese food in general.
Taking a cooking class, especially in a food-focused city like Osaka provides more than another meal. It provides insight into the customs and traditions of a culture.
Eat a Black Egg in Hakone
Recommended by Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
The Owakudani volcano valley just outside of the charming town of Hakone Japan is a unique place to visit.
The ropeway takes you over the volcano valley, which locals have coined ‘The Valley of Hell’. From the ropeway you can see plumes of steam and smell the strong sulfuric gases coming up from the large crater in the ground.
The ropeway stops at a Visitor Center where you can go inside and purchase a souvenir or step outside to look over the volcano valley.
But what makes this one of the more unusual things to do in Hakone is you can eat a black egg.
The egg starts out white, but it is boiled in natural spring water from the area which contains sulfur and iron. The boiling process turns the egg’s shell black, although don’t worry, the actual egg itself tastes like a normal hard boiled egg.
The Japanese believe that eating one of these black eggs adds 7 years to your life. To make your egg-eating experience even more memorable, you can hike a short distance from the Visitor Center to the boiling natural spring and watch the process as the eggs are prepared.
You can get there by purchasing a ticket on the Hakone ropeway or by purchasing the Hakone Freepass.
Try Kobe Beef
Recommended by Chris W. from CTB Global
Kobe is heaven for meat lovers! Kobe beef is such an amazing kind of beef it’s difficult to describe with words. It’s meat from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle and raised in Hyogo Prefecture.
Kobe beef is only Kobe beef if the cattle is raised as per the rules of the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
Kobe beef can be prepared in several ways, but it’s recommended to have sashimi Kobe beef or teppanyaki Kobe beef. This will make sure you taste the tenderness and the fatty marbled texture. It simply melts in your mouth.
There are many places serving Kobe beef in Kobe of course but Ishida Kobe Beef Steak is highly recommended. They serve the highest-grade Kobe beef. The chefs are fun to watch while they prepare the beef in front of you.
It doesn’t come cheap with the best quality in a restaurant well over 100 USD a person. It’s worth it though – once you have had Kobe beef once, you’ll sure want to have it again.
One insider tip: choose to eat simple ramen for 3 days and the 4th day choose Kobe beef. You can do this repeatedly without getting into budget troubles.
You can get Kobe beef throughout Japan but it’s highly recommended to add Kobe to your Japan itinerary and try it at the source.
Kobe can be reached in just 45 minutes from Osaka by high speed train with your JR Rail Pass. It’s a great day trip but if you have time you can also add a night in Kobe.
Kobe has an old European style neighborhood, a botanical garden, temples, and several museums worth exploring. The next day you could visit Himeiji castle just 30 minutes away before heading further or back to Osaka.
Click to find the best hotel options in Kobe
Unusual Animal Encounters in Japan
See the Snow Monkeys
Recommended by Katy Clarke from Untold Morsels
One of the enduring images of nature in Japan is of the famous ‘snow monkeys’ bathing in their warm onsen.
Japanese macaque monkeys are known as snow monkeys thanks to pictures of them lounging in steaming warm natural baths surrounded by snow.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is a popular place to see the monkeys in their natural habitat. It’s a half day excursion that includes a hike through the Yokoyu River valley forest near Shiga Kogen, a large ski area, to reach the monkeys’ playground.
Up to 200 monkeys live in the forest here and they come to the onsen to warm up and clean themselves. They look so relaxed hanging out by the steaming pools, popping in and out for food and to play with each other.
It is one of the best things to do in Japan in winter. When we visited in early autumn, whilst there was no snow, there were lots of new babies riding on the backs of their mothers.
From Nagano you take the local train to Yudanaka Station (45 minutes). Then a taxi or local bus takes you to the Jigokudani Monkey Park car park – a 5km or 15 minute drive.
The walk to the monkey is around half an hour from the ticket office. Some parts of the trail are steep and slippery so make sure to take appropriate footwear and in winter, warm clothing.
It can be as cold as -10C in that region which is no doubt why the monkeys love their warm bath.
Explore Bunny Island
Recommended by Helen Foster from Destination>Differentville
About 15 minutes ferry ride from the port of Tadanoumi on the south coast of Japan’s Honshu Island, there’s a magical world and one of the most unusual places in Japan.
It has blue skies, white sandy beaches and silent green forests – but no-one is here for that.
They’re here because this island is Okunoshima – or Rabbit Island – and it’s home to over 1,000 bunnies. Bunnies who love people! It is one of the most unique things to see in Japan.
The second you get off the ferry, you’re swarmed by them – little pink noses twitching in case you have a bag of rabbit food you might want to give them treats from.
While you can’t technically pick them up, sit down and they’ll happily scamper round your feet or jump on your lap if you’ll let them.
Why they’re here no-one knows. In the war, Okunoshima was used to test chemical weapons but it’s not thought that they were related to that.
But with no natural predators, they’ve made the island their own – and it’s definitely one of the most unique things to do in Japan.
There’s a couple of ways of reaching Bunny Island, the most frequent is the hourly ferry from Tadanoumi which you reach by a local train from Mihara shinkansen station.
This is within fairly easy reach of Hiroshima and Okayama and can also be visited as a long day trip from Osaka or Kyoto.
The other benefit of going from Tadanoumi is that the ferry stop sells bunny food which you can’t buy on the island. Please don’t take them veggies – there’s no vet care so if they do get sick for any reason there’s no way to get them treatment.
Here’s more details on getting to Bunny Island, staying on Bunny island and the answer to what happens if you lie down covered in bunny food on Bunny Island.
If you are looking for unusual things to do in Japan, a visit to Bunny Island Japan should be on your list.
Feed the Deer at Nara
Recommended by Talek Nantes from Travels With Talek
For everybody that grew up with Bambi, the cute, friendly deer, the tame deer of Nara Park in central Japan can be a rude awakening.
These guys are not timid or skittish creatures. They are bold and will insist on you feeding them if they see you have food.
Nara is an ideal day trip from Kyoto or Osaka. It has a little bit of everything for everyone. Since it was a one-time capital of Japan, it has all the cultural history corresponding to such a lofty pedigree.
Nara Park itself, where the deer are, is one of the oldest in Japan having been laid out in the 1300s.
It has beautiful temples and one of the world’s largest Buddhas. These are surrounded by acres of landscaped gardens and ponds filled with large multi-colored fish.
Throughout this environment you see hundreds of deer just ambling about, sniffing for food and serving as great subjects for beautiful photographs.
One of the most interesting and unusual things I found in Nara was the ice creams in bizarre flavors; peanut, sake, seaweed and much more. I tried the sake ice cream and was surprised to see it really did taste like sake!
Just like most Japan attractions, Nara Deer Park is easy to get to. It is just a short 10-minute walk from the Nara Train Station.
The station has a tourist information center where you can get a free map and orient yourself. They also have free wi-fi. The activities in Nara are certainly worth a full day.
Discover other great activities in Nara to do here
Explore Fox Village
Recommended by Henry Wu from This Life of Travel
If you’re in Tokyo and looking for an awesome day trip, a visit to the Miyagi Fox Village is totally worth it! It’s located in Shiroishi (Miyagi Prefecture) and is an easy train ride away.
There are literally hundreds of super cute, fluffy semi-wild foxes running free in this forest sanctuary.
It’s a bit more off the beaten track compared to other places like Bunny Island, the deers in Nara, and the animal cafes in Tokyo and one of the more unusual places to visit in Japan.
To get there you’ll take a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shiroishizao. Once there, you can grab a taxi for around 4000-5000 yen.
The entrance fee is 1,000 yen. They’ll quickly educate you about how to properly interact with the foxes before you go in.
If you go when it’s cold (we went in March) the foxes will be super fluffy. You can buy fox food for 200 yen, which you use to feed them on the special platforms.
They are so cute when they’re looking straight up at you – they even look like they’re smiling!
The foxes looked very well taken care of, happy, and content. They have a ton of room to run around and play – with lots of places of burrow as well.
Try to find some other tourists going back to the train station so you can split the taxi fare and make quick friends!
Unique Places To Go In Japan
Hiking in Japan
Recommended by Lisa from Rebellious Tourist
The Japanese Alps were the highlight of our 10-day Japan itinerary, and hiking in Kamikochi is an essential activity.
The mountain views here are stunning, the hiking trails are easily accessible, and the snow monkeys along the way are endlessly entertaining.
From Kamikochi bus terminal it’s a short walk to the iconic Kappa-bashi (Kappa bridge), but a top tip is to get off the bus before that.
Ask the driver to drop you at Taisho Pond, and walk along the Azusa River for just over an hour to reach Kappa-bashi. From there it’s another hour or so to the smaller Myojin Pond.
These are easy trails with lots of photo opportunities, but for more serious hikers, there are many more challenging routes up into the mountains. A visit to the Japanese Alps is one of the more adventurous things to do in Japan.
At the end of the day, soak your aching muscles in an onsen (hot spring). This region is famous for them. We stayed in Hirayu, the biggest of the five onsen towns, and it was a uniquely Japanese experience.
Or extend your time in Kamikochi and spend the night in the National Park – it’s the best way to soak up the scenery without crowds of day trippers.
There are several spa hotels, a few more high-end options, and a couple of campsites (the official Kamikochi website has detailed info).
Kamikochi closes every year from November 16 to mid- or late April. We loved seeing cherry blossoms and snowy peaks when it reopened in April, but the most popular month is October, when the autumn foliage is said to be spectacular.
There are frequent buses from nearby Hirayu (check Nohi Bus for schedules and prices), and less frequently from Matsumoto, Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
Click to check prices for Kamikochi Nishi-itoya Mountain Lodge
Visit the Scarecrow Village of Nagoro
Recommended by Vicki Franz from Vicki Viaja
One of the most extraordinary things we experienced in Japan was a visit to Nagoro. Nagoro is a deserted little village in the Iya Valley, located in the Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku.
Once, many workers lived here but eventually left the village to find work in the city. One woman that stayed in the village though decided to replace all villagers that had left with scarecrows.
So it happens that you can find scarecrows everywhere in the village. You can even enter some of the buildings, which are also inhabited by these scarecrows. Even at the bus stop, you will find some dolls and it seems like they are waiting for the bus.
For many, visiting Nagoro is one of the most weird things to do in Japan. For us, it was more of a fun experience to discover the dolls that you can find everywhere around the village.
However, I have to admit that I would probably not particularly be happy coming here after dark.
The village is located in the middle of the forest and is difficult to reach. Especially since the bus usually only drives here on weekends.
We decided to hitchhike there and found – after more than an hour of waiting – a super sweet Japanese couple, who were actually on the way to an onsen and decided to accompany us to Nagoro instead.
Discover the Japan Art Islands
Recommended by Henry Wu from This Life of Travel
Hidden away in the Seto Inland Sea are the Japan Art Islands. They are filled with beautiful art installations, museums, and architectural masterpieces. It is simply one of the best things to see in Japan if you love art and nature.
They have a triennial (every 3 years) where they refresh all the art and 2019 was one of those years! Some of the art you’ll see from previous years include Monet, Yayoi Kusama, James Turrell, Tadao Ando, and more.
It all started on the main island of Naoshima by the Benesse Foundation – who has one of the best museums on the island. They also have the Benesse House Hotel, which is housed as part of the museum.
If you stay here, you’ll be able to roam the museum at all hours.. even at 3 am.. all by yourself! The Oval Rooms are especially incredible because you’ll get access to the beautiful Oval Area.
If you like James Turrell – he has two pieces on the art islands. One involves light deprivation and the other is a standard skylight pieces.
Tadao Ando – one of the most famous Japanese architects, has many lovely structures throughout the islands.
There is also an amazing bathhouse called I Love Bath – its simply adorable and full of wonky art inside.
Teshima Museum is probably the highlight of the whole thing for me personally. It’s hard to explain but you’ll feel like you’re in another world when inside this water droplet shaped structure.
Visit Miyajima Island
Recommended by Mikkel from Sometimes Home
I grew up going to Epcot at Walt Disney World long before I ever envisioned myself traveling to Japan. The red gate in the water at Epcot in front of the Japan pavilion always amazed me.
Years later, when a visit to Japan turned into a beautiful exploration of the country, I wanted to visit the inspiration for this gate.
Thus, I discovered Miyajima Island. This glorious, unique place is on the south side of Japan in Hiroshima Bay. It’s easily accessible with a 30 minute ferry ride from Hiroshima if you’re touring the area.
You see the red gate, or torii, in the water, just like in Epcot as the ferry approaches Miyajima Island. But that’s just the start of exploring this great gem in Japan.
There is a range of things to do on Miyajima Island, including the impressive Itsukushima-jinja shrine, and delicious street food too. Our top tip is try a roasted oyster from any street vendor you pass cooking them up over coals on an open fire.
Be sure to stay all day to see the rise and fall of the tide and how it affects the viewpoints on Miyajima Island. But check the return ferry schedule too so you can get back to the mainland!
Go Kayaking on Ishigaki Island
Recommended by Clemens Sehi from Travellers Archive
Ishigaki Island is an island that belongs to Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa, Japan.
It is actually located about 400 kilometers off the main island of Okinawa and, what’s even more interesting, just 270 kilometers away from Taiwan.
If you are wondering where to go in Japan off the beaten path, this is a great option.
Surrounded by hundreds of coral reefs, this island has beautiful beaches and scenic marine spots, but also beautiful rivers that are a delight to explore.
One of the best things to do on the island of Ishigaki is to go kayaking in the lush green nature on Miyara river.
Most kayaking tours are half day tours and include lunch at the river with wonderful views of the island.
Many tours start in Ishigaki town where you will be picked up at your hotel in the morning and brought to the starting point of your kayaking tour.
It’s either one or two persons in one kayak and the groups are normally pretty small so that you can get the most fun out of it.
The tours are perfect for kayaking beginners as well. Don’t forget sunscreen as it can get pretty hot in the Okinawa archipelago.
Click here to check the price for a Ishigaki Kayaking tour
Unique Japanese Temples To Visit
Explore Saiho-ji Temple
Recommended by James Ian from Travel Collecting
Visiting Saiho-ji Temple (or Koko-dera/ Moss Temple as it is commonly called) in Kyoto is a unique Japanese experience for several reasons.
A visit to the temple starts with a mandatory ritual. This could be chanting a sutra or copying the ‘heart sutra’.
Even if you don’t understand the Japanese kanji characters, it is still a fun introduction to Japanese calligraphy.
After you are suitably prepared by the ritual, you are able to enter the moss garden. More than 200 varieties of moss grow amongst trees and around a heart-shaped pond.
It is not the western concept of a heart shape, however. The golden pond is shaped like the kanji (Japanese written character) for the word ‘heart’.
There are several tiny islands that help make the shape, and some tea houses scattered throughout the garden. This is a magical place and one of the more unique things to do in Kyoto.
The best time of year to visit is during Spring in the rainy season when the moss is at its most lush, but any time of year is OK. It is a distinctly Japanese experienced that is well worth the effort to visit.
Note that the Moss Temple is somewhat complicated to visit. The garden is only open by reservation. There are set times and you need to book at least a month in advance.
To book, you must send in a special return-addressed postcard, but this only works for addresses in Japan. If you don’t live in Japan, the easiest way to do this is to ask your hotel to arrange it for you.
When you arrive at the appointed time, you show your postcard as proof of reservation and pay the 3,000 yen admission fee.
Wander through Fushimi Inari
Recommended by Leona Wandermust from Wandermust Family
If there is one unique place to visit in Kyoto it is the iconic red Tori gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is one of the most impressive shrines in Kyoto and one of the best places to visit in Japan.
Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of the Inari. It sits at the base of Mount Inari and thousands of torii gates can be followed up to the summit of the mountain. The higher you get, the more you will get the shrine to yourself as the tourists fall away!
One of my favourite things about visiting the shrine was seeing the locals make their ascent to the top of the shrine dressed in their best kimonos. A truly beautiful sight and one of the top things to do in Kyoto.
The shrine is very easy to get to from Kyoto as there are train and metro stations nearby. The shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station.
Top Tip: If you are visiting in summer be sure to go early and pack plenty of water as the climb is long and the Kyoto summer gets very hot!
So that wraps up our summary of unique and cool things to do in Japan. Don’t forget to book your accommodation in advance for popular destinations.
Where is the most unusual place you have visited in Japan? Let us know in the comments below!
Find all our Japan articles here or for more destinations in Asia click here.
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- 5 Fun Things To Do In Kyoto With Kids
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2 thoughts on “20 Unique Things To Do In Japan”
Rachel, this is a fantastic post. So much to do in Japan. It was my dream to go to Japan since I have moved to China.
You can even hike there…I didn’t know that. Views are stunning!
We can’t wait to return to do some hiking and even cycling – such a great country to visit!