More than half a million Australian tourists visited Japan in 2018, setting a new annual record, according to the latest figures released by Japan National Tourism Organisation.
Australians are being drawn to Japan for experiences unlike anywhere else in the world. The multitude of things to do means that Japan can appeal to many different types of travellers including foodies; families looking to take advantage of the affordable world-class attractions; adventure seekers looking for more thrills on the slopes; nature lovers taking in some of the country’s beautiful landscape; or simply immersing themselves in Japan’s rich and unique history and culture.
Here’s our list of 22 absolute BEST things to do along with a few definite MUST DOS too:
1. BEST HELI SKIING: NISEKO
Hokkaido Backcountry Club
Heli skiing is the ultimate adventure for keen powder hounds and considering that Japan pretty much has the best powder in the world, it’s no great surprise that powder enthusiasts want to go heli skiing in Japan. The snow gods drop manna from heaven in abundance on the Japanese mountains and the quality of the snow is ichi-ban!
2. BEST SNOWBOARDING
Zao has been described by foreign visitors as everything from “simply beautiful” to “snowboarding heaven,” and it’s not hard to see why. This place has some of the widest runs you’re likely to come across in Japan, making it perfect for those wanting to learn ski or snowboard or those who want to try out a few new tricks without having to constantly look over their shoulder, but perhaps the coolest thing about snowboarding on Mount Zao are the “snow monsters” that line the runs.
3. BEST CANYONING IN JAPAN
Canyoning in Japan is an exciting and exhilarating activity from May to October. Canyoning is the sport of descending, well, canyons. Slide down waterfalls and splash in to deep pools that have been carved by millennia of fast flowing water.
The Kamoshika Canyon is one of our most popular summer adventures. Even in the swelter of Japan’s mid summer heat, Kamoshika Canyon is an amazingly cool and shaded place to enjoy one of Japan’s canyons. Over millions of years swift flowing water running down from the high plateaus of Japan’s Northern Alps has carved out slick rock waterfalls and deep pools.
From using ropes to descend 15 metre waterfalls, sliding down multiple smaller waterfalls, swimming in deep fresh pools to jumping from the canyon walls – you are sure to be thrilled and refreshed.
4. BEST BUNGEE JUMPING IN JAPAN
Ryujin Suspension Bridge
For an even bigger thrill than Japan’s longest slide, adrenalin junkies can get their fill by jumping off the Ryujin Suspension Bridge — attached to a bungee rope, of course. Ryujin Bungy allows thrill seekers to dive 100 meters down towards the dragon-shaped Ryujin Gorge, which boasts a particularly stunning view in autumn. Visitors not into life-threatening activities can shop souvenirs, or, if well prepared, head to the hiking trails on the other side of the bridge. There’s also a newly opened café at the bottom of the ravine, and plenty of other activities like SUP, kayaking and more.
5. BEST SCUBA DIVING: OGASAWARA ISLANDS
Pristine beaches, star-studded night skies, searing sunsets and whales splashing in tropical waters are not the usual things to expect on a trip to Japan. But venture about 1000km south of downtown Tokyo and that’s exactly what you’ll find.
The Ogasawara Islands are world-class in terms of diving and offer the chance to spot manta ray, sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, whales and plentiful coral reefs. The main diving spot is Chichi-jima and the waters around Hyotan-jima, Minami-jima and Hirashima. Plenty of operators on Chichi-jima offer diving packages.
6. UNMISSABLE TEMPLE
Kinkaku-ji – Kyoto
Be it capped by snow in winter or set against a lush green background in summer, nothing is as symbolic of Kyoto as Kinkaku-ji’s golden reflection shimmering across the rippled surface of the pond before it. Not even the crowds of tourists — and they come by the thousands — can detract from Kinkaku-ji’s undoubted splendor. The current gold leaf-coated reconstruction was unveiled in 1955, five years after the 14th-century original was torched by one of the temple’s monks.
7. BEST ONSEN
Kawaguchiko Onsen – Yamanashi
Imagine bathing in natural hot springs located on the base of the mighty Mount Fuji. Yes, it’s possible! Head to the Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen, where you can find a number of guesthouses and ryokan inns, with both indoor and outdoor bathing options. It’s one of the best onsens in Japan and the ideal time to visit is in the spring when you’ll be surrounded by cherry blossom trees in all their glory.
8. BEST NATURE WALK
Arashiyama – Kyoto
Immerse yourself in a living tunnel of emerald-green with a stroll through Kyoto’s bamboo forest.
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s most photographed and recognisable sights, and a walk through it will be one of your most lasting impressions of this city.
9. BEST SKI MOUNTAIN
Welcome to the Hakuba Valley! Pristine snow conditions. Outstanding natural beauty. A world of trails to explore. It’s no wonder that Hakuba is considered Japan’s premier alpine resort destination, perfect for enjoying exhilarating winter holidays with family and friends.
10. MUST DO: MARIO
Tokyo is known to be the capital of weird and cute things to do and we found just the coolest thing to do during our recent trip there: real life Mario Kart. Yes, it’s legal to drive a go kart on the streets of Tokyo and dress up as super hero characters and yes you can take photos and videos. If you are planning a trip to Tokyo then this real life Mario Kart has to be on your Tokyo bucket list and I guarantee you won’t regret doing it.
11. BEST ART EXPERIENCE
Naoshima Art Island
Situated in the Seto Inland Sea, the Japanese island of Naoshima is one of the most unique and unassuming art meccas of the world. Dotted with stunning beaches and even more stunning architecture and sculptures, this laidback island is one of the country’s most unique hideaways and a must-visit adventure for art fans of every calibre.
12. MUST DO: KAWAII MONSTER CAFE
Kawaii Monster Café – Tokyo
In 2015, The Kawaii Monster Cafe opened its funky, rainbow-colored doors in none other than Tokyo’s fashion capital of cuteness, Harajuku. The adorably monstrous theme restaurant was produced by Japanese artist Sebastian Masuda, who is considered one of the pioneers at the forefront of Harajuku Kawaii (cute) culture. For fans of all things kimo-kawaii (grotesque but cute), Kawaii Monster Cafe is a must-visit! From the “Monster Girl” wait staff to an out-of-this-world menu, its creative weirdness will captivate anyone who dares to enter.
13. BEST VOLCANO CLIMB
Climbing Mount Fuji (3776 meters), Japan’s highest and most prominent mountain, can make for lifelong memories. The mountain itself may look more attractive from afar than from close up, but the views on clear days and the experience of climbing through the early morning hours among hundreds of equally minded hikers from across the world are very rewarding.
14. MUST DO: CHERRY BLOSSOMS
Take the ultimate cherry blossom tour of Japan
The fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms (also known as sakura) is admired worldwide. Join cherry blossom tours in Tokyo and visit the best spots for hanami or flower-gazing. Any picture you take will look lovely with lines of cherry blossom trees forming tunnels of faint pink. Enjoy the sight of cherry blossom petals dancing in the wind as they fall and walk on a carpet of flowers as you enjoy Tokyo springtime to your heart’s content.
15. MUST DO: VISIT THE TALLEST STRUCTURE IN THE WORLD
Tokyo Skytree Observation Deck
Have you ever heard of Tokyo Skytree? Take in the views at 600m+ – officially the tallest free-standing tower in the world.
16. BEST BAR
Park Hyatt, New York Bar – Tokyo
High above the skies of Tokyo, New York Bar effortlessly evokes the spirit of its namesake: the city that never sleeps. The cosmopolitan atmosphere is matched by a wide-ranging selection of premium whiskeys, original and classic cocktails
and the largest selection of American wines in Japan.
As the jazz band strikes up another number, enjoy the city lights glitter in the distance of a dramatic skyline worthy of Manhattan.
17. MUST DO: TOUR TOKYO BY HELICOPTER
Tokyo Helicopter Tour
For a unique, unforgettable experience, book a helicopter tour of Tokyo. You’ll see the city’s landmarks, and be dazzled by its beauty, day or night.
Helicopter tours are a unique way to see Tokyo. Flying over the city, you’ll see famous landmarks such as Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree and Rainbow Bridge from exciting new angles. Night flights are especially breathtaking, as the city is aglow with bright lights once the sun goes down. Book a tour with these helicopter operators for a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Experience firsthand one of Japan’s most iconic tourist destinations: Nara Koen. Located next to the grounds of Japan’s Buddhist temple, Todaiji, this is where you’ll find the majority of Nara’s attractions, spread throughout the picturesque, tree-lined park.The park is famed for its free-roaming deer population. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill Bambis though: these are sacred deer. For millennia, these creatures have been thought to be the messengers of the Shinto gods.
Take a stroll across Tokyo’s famous suspension bridge and enjoy fabulous views of the city. Make sure you bring your camera when you walk over Rainbow Bridge, as you will want to record the appealing views of the city’s skyline. It’s a very easy walk too which takes you right to Odaiba, a popular tourist spot. The 798-metre bridge’s official name is more prosaically Shuto Expressway No. 11 Daiba Route – Port of Tokyo Connector Bridge. Construction began in 1987 and was finished in 1993. The bridge got its more popular name through the coloured lights that illuminate the towers supporting its suspension cables. The solar-powered red, white and green lights create a rainbow effect which is reflected down into the waters of Tokyo Bay.
20. BEST INSTA OPP: DIGITAL ART MUSEUM
Easily one of the coolest museums you’ll ever visit, the Digital Art Museum is proving to be a spectacle many can’t pass up. The group of artists known as teamLab Borderless has come together to create art that isn’t limited to one dimension. Instead, visitors are treated to a three-dimensional wonder that spans over 10,000 square meters.
The goal of this museum is to form one borderless world where boundaries, both physical and mental, are broken down or moved through. As each individual moves through certain exhibits, the space around them changes and evolves. It’s an indescribable experience that is well worth every minute spent wandering through the seemingly infinite world of borderless art.
21. MUST DO: CROSS WITH EXTREME CARE
Shibuya Crossing – Tokyo
Rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world (and definitely in Japan), Shibuya Crossing is like a giant beating heart, sending people in all directions with every pulsing light change. Nowhere else says ‘Welcome to Tokyo’ better than this. Hundreds of people – and at peak times upwards of 3000 people – cross at a time, coming from all directions at once, yet still to dodge each other with a practiced, nonchalant agility.
22. A DINNER EXPERIENCE YOU’LL NEVER FORGET
Robot Restaurant – Tokyo
No, we’re not out of our minds, we’re talking about the Robot Restaurant in Japan!
Located in Kabukichō, Shinjuku, you definitely can’t miss it! All you need to do is look out for a colossal neon signboard with two equally giant robots. Hold your breath and be transported into an alternate reality where flashing lights, crystal chandeliers, mirrors (lots of them) and neon sparkles take charge.
You, my friend, have been transported to the world where robots rule!