Take urban adventure to new heights within Tokyo’s endless side streets or slow down in rural Hida-Takayama’s old town; snorkel along Okinawa’s white-sand beaches or ski Nagano’s snow-covered alps; explore Kyoto’s untouched temples and shrines or bask in Fukuoka’s volcanic hot springs—Japan’s blend of tradition, natural wonder, and hyper-modernity is like nowhere else on Earth.


Photo by Peter Bohler


When’s the best time to go to Japan?

Mid-March through April is peak time for Japan’s cherry blossoms. During these months, blossom viewing festivals spread throughout the country—picture picnicking, singing, and drinking beneath trees abundant with pink and white petals. Since the blossoms only bloom for a few weeks, it can be hard to predict the best time to visit. And while the cherry blossoms are worth the attention they receive, the vibrant red maples and yellow ginkgo trees of Japan’s autumn are equally mesmerizing. Fall and spring also happen to be the most temperate times of year, while July and August are sweltering and good times to avoid Japan. Also avoid visiting during Golden Week, a major holiday in Japan from April 29 to May 5, as accommodations book up fast and prices are elevated.

How to get around Japan

Japan’s largest airports are Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports and Osaka’s Kansai airport. Japanese trains are some of the best in the world and are the primary mode of transportation within the country. If you plan to explore beyond Tokyo, you’ll want to purchase the JR Pass—a deal only offered to foreigners visiting the country. You can purchase a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day pass and it must be purchased before coming to Japan. Trains, subways, and buses within Japan’s cities are convenient and punctual. Taxi services are also available and exploring the cities by bike is popular.

Can’t miss things to do in Japan

Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing—often referenced as the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world—is a surreal experience and, surprisingly, doesn’t feel too touristy. If you’re only going to see one shrine in all Japan, it should be Meiji Jingu, located beside Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. Kyoto’s Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is especially stunning against Japan’s autumnal red maples. A trip to the country would not be complete without a traditional Japanese hot spring experience. While these onsen can be found throughout the country, the most magical are often tucked away near mountains and volcanoes. If you’re in Tokyo during January, May, or September, get tickets for the grand sumo tournament. The remainder of the year, you can visit a sumo stable and see the wrestlers practice on their home turf.

Food and drink to try in Japan

You could easily plan an entire journey throughout Japan based on food alone. Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world, and every region of Japan touts its own specific cuisines; Hokkaido’s snow crabs, for example, and Fukuoka’s tonkotsu ramen. Try at least one kaiseki, a traditional multi-course meal that is often served at Japanese inns known as ryokan. Other not-to-miss Japanese dishes include okonomiyaki savory pancakes, yakitori grilled meats (which are best paired with a Japanese lager at a type of bar called an izakaya), wagashi traditional sweets, and the various street foods highlighted in this video:

Culture in Japan

Whether exploring Japan’s metropolises or trekking through the countryside, you’ll be richly rewarded with historical sites and stories. The Japanese are serious about their cultural heritage and artisans—known as shokunin, masters of their craft—are recognized as national treasures. Shinto and Buddhism are the main religions and the country is sprinkled with Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines from throughout Japan’s long history. The Japanese celebrate the seasons and Buddhist and Shinto holidays with festivals throughout the year. On Ganjitsu, New Year’s Day, the locals head to temples and shrines to pray for the new year. The Ohanami (flower viewing) festivities last from late March to mid-April as people celebrate beneath the cherry blossoms with sake and singing. And in mid-May, Tokyoites and tourists pack Asakusa and march through the streets with portable shrines for Sanja Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s liveliest and largest festivals.

For Families

From cultural heritage sites and interactive museums to amusement parks and Zen gardens, families can choose their own Japan adventure. The country offers a combination of culture and entertainment that’s both family-friendly and safe. When the kids need to run wild and free, there are plenty of parks and gardens that provide a break from the bustle of the city. A few not to miss are Kyoto’s Arashiyama bamboo forest and Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen. The Japanese are also lovers of theme parks and Tokyo Disneyland is the countrywide favorite.

Local travel tips for Japan

Due to the sheer size of Japanese cities, one of the most challenging things for non-locals to navigate is the food scene. Here are a few tips: Many top restaurants offer kaiseki multi-course meals at lunch for a fraction of the price of the same meal at dinner. You’ll find large department stores (including Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, and Matsuzakaya) in all major Japanese cities and these stores usually have underground markets stocked with fresh produce, sushi, prepared foods like seaweed salads and pork buns, traditional Japanese sweets, European chocolates, and plenty of sake and wine.

Guide Editor

Erin Bogar is a writer and editor for a San Francisco–based global design agency. She’s lived in both Nagoya and Tokyo and has a deep passion for Japan and Japanese exports like Haruki Murakami novels, matcha, and Junmai Daiginjo sake.

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
Tokyo combines ultramodern and ancient architecture with elegance and ease. See examples of its incredible architecture at these buildings and structures, then go in depth and learn more about them at some of the city’s top museums.
With more Michelin-star restaurants—200—than any other city, Tokyo is an unrivaled culinary capital. It’s a good idea to have your hotel’s concierge make a reservation, though, because many top restaurants have only a few, very coveted tables.
Japan’s former imperial city offers awe-inspiring Shinto and Buddhist temples, beautiful gardens, streets lined with old wooden town houses, and narrow stone lanes where you might see modern-day geisha and stop at an izakaya for a meal.
From age-old temples and shrines to stunning contemporary art and architecture, bustling seafood markets to trendy shopping districts, there’s something to explore around every corner of this global city.
The city’s culinary delights include multicourse kaiseki menus, ramen, even humble barbecue, but what characterizes everything from the simplest izakaya to a three-star Michelin restaurant is the use of the freshest ingredients prepared with artful care and technique.
Traveling a little differently this time, we ventured out to explore winter and food in Hokkaido. While most people go to ski and play in the snow, we went to take our first snowboard lessons, tried snowmobiling for the first time and threw snowballs at each other, of course :-) And while most people spend more time on the attractions, our attractions focused on the spectacular food that Hokkaido is so popular known for.
Tokyo has a dizzying number of things to do. Don’t think of that as a problem. Look at a visit to Tokyo—whether your first or your fifth—as an opportunity to go a bit deeper, to peel off layers, to write a list of things you need to visit on your next trip. Ponder that list while at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, where you can take in views of Tokyo from the 54th floor observation decks. Make sure it includes visits to Toyosu Market (formerly part of the Tsukiji fish market) for the tuna auctions, the Ghibli Museum (animation fan or not), and Shibuya Crossing. In season, take in the scent of cherry blossoms before heading to a cat cafe for a cup of tea and a cat cuddle. Or just go do all of those things now and create your own deep cuts list for your next visit.
From high-end shopping malls filled with high fashion and international brands to small shops stocked with made-on-site treasures and some of the world’s best bookstores, Tokyo is every shopper’s delight. Some of the best shopping districts include Ginza, Roppongi, Omotesando, Nihonbashi, Akihabara, and Nakameguro. For last-minute souvenirs for everybody on your list, head to Tokyu Hands Shibuya for 20 floors of merchandise ranging from kitchen wares to stationery and luggage.
Get some distance from the neon lights of Tokyo. Head to high ground and take in the sights from these spots—from hotel bars to observation towers or simply hills—for a new and thrilling perspective on the city.
A trip to Tokyo can sometimes feel like a step into the future, and that extends to shopping. In electronics and toy stores, you will find products that won’t find their way to shelves in America for several more years. At the same time, shopping in Tokyo provides an opportunity to witness timeless Japanese craftsmanship. Writer Erin Bogar selects shopping experiences that are also introductions to the country’s culture, from temple markets to the food halls of department stores.
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.