Things to Do in Japan: Awesome Activities for One of Asia's Top Destinations

Things to Do in Japan: Awesome Activities for One of Asia's Top Destinations

The land of the Rising Sun is a massively popular tourist destination; with so many things to see and do, we will help you sort through the activities for your whole family!

So many people, so many places, so much to see! Our trip took us from a frosty mountaintop to the poetry of the past written on leaves. Such a beautiful country to explore, we needed every minute to find out more about the rich ( and strange! ) culture. Read on to find your perfect spot in Japan, whether you are flying solo or brought an entourage! Some spots are only for the adults of the group, but we made sure to identify the family-friendly and the party friendly for you (and make a couple suggestions on where the kids could stop by while you enjoy yourself).

Day Trip to Mt. Fuji

image credit to Keira Bishop

If you head out in the fall months (End of August to beginning of November) not only will the crowds jostle you less, but the colors of the mountains will be out in full force. Beautiful, sweeping views are yours in the morning, before the smog and clouds hide your sight. If you bring the little ones along, there is an amusement park and tourist station that sells trinkets to remember your trip, so bring some yen to spare.

If water is more your thing, take a stroll around the beautiful Kawaguchi-ko lake. For your convenience, quite a few hotels offer a trip package-your stay comes with a refreshing soak in the hot springs for rejuvenation, and a day trip up this very important mountain. Or, you could relax in a hot tub instead in one of the many resorts offering good views of Fuji-san's sides.

Mt. Fuji has major importance in Japanese legend as well. In one such legend, a childless elderly couple found a babe the size of a thumb in the bamboo on their property, and raised her as their own. As the young girl grew into a beautiful woman, the Emperor fell in love with her. Unable to earn her affection, he later found out to his regret that the girl was the child of the moon (or a celestial nymph, depending on the version), and thus was unable to win the bride of this dream. Also depending on the version, he either burns her gift to him on the highest mountain (Fuji) or finds her pond she guards as a nymph and jumps in the water, taking her gift with him.

Trips around the mountain are available by train, horse, or bike as well. Ask a fellow sightseer where you can rent any of the above for a little extra pocket change, or check with the travel agency to see if it's an optional offer.

Bring your camera for that once in a lifetime view!

Tokyo Imperial Palace

History buffs read on to mark a place for your passion!

About a quarter hour from Tokyo station, this gorgeous multi-purpose protected area is one that you cannot miss! As the entire area is split into sections, visitthe Fukiage Garden, Tōkagakudō (the fine arts/music corridor), East Garden, Nijubashi (the entrance gates) and more. While you are not allowed to enter the buildings, guided tours are offered (in Japanese) with audio translation in English.

There is a lengthy lesson on the history of the royal family held outside the walls before the tour begins, making this stop perfect for those trying to get that authentic feel for Japanese culture. Someone who is more interested in only sightseeing, however, would be better off staying away from the tour and wandering freely through the parks and areas surrounding the palace.

Do remember to book your tour with the Imperial household agency, however. Some areas are closed on Friday, Monday, and holidays too, so be sure to plan in advance. Most of the exterior gardens and areas outside the castle walls are free to wander, however.

If you are lucky, perhaps you'll get to see the royal family from their balcony! (They usually appear on holidays, so take that into consideration when booking your tickets!)

Odaiba

This military strongpost - turned - shopping extravaganza is right by the Rainbow Bridge. If you wish to plan your trip in 2020, you will also get to see part of the Olympics take place!

Very popular for its family-friendly atmosphere, Odaiba has come a long way from its military background. Originally built with six massive island defenses back in 1853, in the 1990's this spot underwent a massive revival to become the international attraction it is today. We put together a little list of spots we found fun.

For a taste of the nightlife, stop by Zepp Tokyo, one of the country's biggest nightclubs. While owned by Sony, most of the Zepp locations are sponsored by breweries. Sounds like mixing business with pleasure, right? Drinks are offered on premises, but food is not. Enjoy your grub on the way, then enjoy the rest of the night with local and international performers on stage.

Miraikan- where your tech dreams come true! Complete with a cafe, museum shop, and the "Kid Zone", this scientific paradise will amaze you with your own world! Robot demonstrations and and group demonstrations keep the kids having fun, while learning about different approaches to the scientific fields will keep your mind busy for hours! Groups and individuals are welcome with reservations. A general tour takes two and a half to three hours, self guided.

Museum of Maritime Science (Fune no kagakukan) Your little one ready for some splash time? Coming to the Fune no Kagakukan means some hands-on time with canoes, propelled rubbercraft, and more. With a swimming pool available, the Museum is worth your time for some fishy fun.

Rikugien Garden

Image credit to Vinny Moreira

A botanist, a poet, and a photographer all have one thing in common-and that thing is Rikugien Garden. 21 acres of botanical pleasure awaits you there- recreating almost 90 scenes from Japanese poetry! During the autumn and spring seasons, the Rikugien is open for night viewing, allowing you to see the sakura trees under the moonlight. Talk about romantic!

We definitely recommend bringing an extra memory card for your camera - we took photo after photo of the beautiful and romantic scenery. If you are feeling especially artistic, perhaps try to pose scenes from each ballad, or pick up a translated copy of the ballad and read the lines pertaining to each garden as you stand by it.

In the middle of the gardens sit two tea houses, ready for hungry tourists to sit and enjoy the view. A few cafes and eateries are also available on the edges of the garden if you prefer more modern or filling fare. There are occasionally artistic poets reciting the lines that inspired each garden.

Inokashira Park

Photo credit to Marisela Alvarez

An anime lover's paradise in October, Inokashira Park is a very popular spot the year round. The cherry blossoms over the lake are well worth a picture or two, make no mistake. Many different paths wander about on the water's edge, and boats are available for traversing the pond. (There's an old legend that says that non-married couples on the lake will break up soon after boating, so be careful if you are superstitious!). The reflection of the flowering plants makes it feel as if you were floating through the tops of the trees. It's also a popular spot for locals to get engaged, so you may see a couple's happy day on your stroll through the area.

This park was the first park established by the shogunate for the express purpose of the citizen's enjoyment, so it has a unique history to explore for those trying to get a full taste of Japanese culture.

Two festivals are held in the park, one in April, the Kichijoji Music Festival, and one in October, the Kichijouji Anime Wonderland. Each gets its fair share of traffic and vendors, so if you go in either month, bring plenty of pocket change!

The Kichijoji Music festival often has student and veteran performers in brass instruments working their musical magic side by side.

The Kichijoji Anime Wonderland has several different sub-events, from having an enormous anime expo complete with plushies and all, to a silver screen viewing of the most popular anime of Japan.

Shonan Beach

Photo taken by Andre Leal

Well we steered clear of of the motorcycle tribe, so our trip was . . . coast clear!

It gets really, really crowded during the short summer burst, so be prepared to be crowded by the family groups, and by wild teens. Nope, really. They were wild in every sense of the word. A few groups were not pleasant, but simply moving to another spot made us a few new friends.

We saw windsurfer teams, crazy spur of the moment dance troupes, glow stick performances, and every tattoo imaginable. Also, rubber duckies were amazingly popular.

It was a little strange, but Shonan beach was a lot of fun when we just started to go with the flow. If your collar isn't too tight about a little birthday suit here and there, a stop by Shonan is loads of fun. The winter season sees lots of cold surfers as well, so if you do take your trip in the winter they should put on quite a show!

Shibuya Hikarie

Hey there, shopping diva! How does a 8 story department store sound? The ShinQ's is the last word in women's fashion and toiletries. Whether it's clothes, makeup, household items, or a professional hand helping to develop your inner goddess, ShinQ's got it. We enjoyed a good wander though the aisles, despite a slight language barrier.

The basement is two floors of food and drink needs, even perishables and gift cards. We enjoyed spending some time looking through the products, simply because of the entirely different marketing techniques used to advertise.

Are you hungry after a full afternoon of shopping? Head upstairs past the recreational rooms for some tasty grub, or head all the way to the top of the enormous tower for some cafe food while you watch a theater show!

To see what's happening before you stop by, check out the link below for up to date information:

Shibuya Hikarie will radiate its light to the world. Shibuya Hikarie

Shibuya Crossing

This famous crosswalk had to show up on our list somewhere, right?

In this massive pedestrian crosswalk, three massive advertisement screens will spotlight the area with various ads and news bulletins, and the Starbucks just across the way is known to be the busiest Starbucks in the world. A plethora of people will stream in and out of the area, on the way to the next task in their busy lives.

This famous spot is well known for its appearance in several blockbuster films, and for the world-famous statue of Hachiko, a very popular spot to meet for locals and tourists alike.

Although we are sure you already know, the story of Hachiko is of the most loyal dog known. Hachiko always waited at the train station for his master to leave work. When his master did not return after his death, the dog Hachiko returned to the station for ten years, until he too finally passed away. The memorial is erected in the memory of his loyalty until death.

You may have seen the crossing on the big screen in "Lost in Translation", "Fast and Furious", and more. . . but what could compare with walking the streets yourself? Grab a coffee, watch the hundreds of people stream around you, and get lost in something a lot bigger than yourself.

Saitama - The Railway Museum

Got a Thomas the Train fan in your group? Take your aspiring trainman or woman to Saitama and the Railway Museum for hands-on fun with all different trains from their development to present. This building was established in 2007, and has been adding to its features ever since.

Life-sized models, railway constructions, and a full education on the railway system awaits you there, so make a reservation to stop by. Included in your trip are stops by the museum shop, the cafeteria, and the gallery. In the research room, they offer a sneak peek into the future of Japan's railway systems. Interested parties from America may enjoy a glimpse of the development in the next level of mass transportation! If you are a history buff, this is also a good stop to brush up on your knowledge of international trains as well, since Japan imported its first trains from other countries before developing their own.

Your little one may enjoy simulations of train cabs as well; the d51 train requires a fee of 500 yen (4$) to operate, but all other rides are free. Feel free to choo-choo away!

Omagari Fireworks Competition

Photo credited to Patrizia Schiozzi

It proved almost impossible to get a booking to this event, but boy we were glad we did! A friend that had been stationed in Tokyo and was fluent in Japanese got us an all-inclusive booking to the Omagari competition. If you manage to get a booking for the seats yourself, definitely reserve a hotel room in Omagari in advance-people are fiercely competitive for their seats and for their rooms. There are no buses back to Tokyo after the show, therefore creating the need for the hotel rooms.

The tradition of fireworks or "Hanabi", is to drive away evil fox spirits from their people and crops. The kanji for hanabi means "fire flower". Pretty fitting, we think!

Only the best of the best of the best are invited to participate in this competition, in both day and night mode, so be prepared to be amazed. Always held the on the fourth Saturday, also be sure to bring your earplugs for the grand finale!

Nippon Maru

Ahoy there, maties! This museum ship located in Yokohama is a wonderful stop for aspiring pirates and sailors alike. The full white sails fluttering in the sea breeze makes a beautiful sight while approaching the old ship - well worth a snapshot or two.

Originally used as a training ship for the marine faction of the Japanese military, this proud sailboat was built in 1930. After cruising the Earth almost 46 times, she was retired at the ripe old age of 54, and reopened as a museum shortly thereafter. Many tourists and locals alike have kept the old girl open, and the museum also accepts donations of a nautical nature, from books to paintings.

Also available on the ship or nearby are: a library, museum shop, restaurant, and more. We have attached a link to a copy of the English guidebook below,

English guidebook

Rabbit Island

Photo credited to Marnix Bras

No, really. Once a poison gas manufacturing area, this island is home to an excess of rabbits after 50 years or so. Funny local stories give a varied history of how exactly this island become a bunny bastion, so feel free to ask a few fellow travelers what they have heard on the way over.

With a museum, some ruins, and a good hike-bike trail nearby, Rabbit island is a ton of fun. Be prepared to be mobbed by the little fuzzies as soon as you rustle so much as a piece of paper, however, as the rabbits are getting tame to the point of running to the boat as soon as it comes near shore.

The rabbits are used to visitors at this point, so feel free to feed and pet away. A hotel is near (but booked in advance, so call before you stop by). Bouncing bunnies are not invited inside, and dogs or cats are banned, so leave Fido at home for this trip.

Yoro Park - "Reversible Destiny"

Upside down buildings, furniture on the ceiling, almost 100 waterfalls, and more activities than you can shake a stick at, Yoro Park (and the surrounding area) is the epitome of artistic expression. A little aged in the 20 years since its establishment, Reversible Destiny in Yoro Park may have you feeling like you stepped into a Dali painting. We won't spoil too much for you, but if you want to take a look at what you are getting into, there have been numerous videos taken on site.

Food, tennis and golf are offered on the grounds, as well as a children's play area. An area like this is hard to describe other than "not what you see every day".

Zauo

Fair warning - if you have a tender-hearted member of your group along, it probably is best to drop them off at Odaiba and then head here. Your trip into the Zauo restaurant is begun by putting you in a gigantic aquarium - no, really! Well, you don't exactly jump in - you are provided with a fishing pole first.

In you go, to fish for your meal. Boats are placed to float in the aquariums for your fishing pleasure until you catch your dinner. Your friendly waiter then comes, relieves you of your trophy, and asks what you would like made from it. Don't overcook your fish -the fresher they are, the better they taste lightly cooked!

Once you've enjoyed Nemo and friends, feel free to pick up your friend, and never tell them where you were all that time. "Fish? I don't smell fish . . ."

Lock Up Cafe - The Dungeon

Image via G Schouten de Jel on freeimages.com

If handcuffs, scares and whips excite you (no, not that kind), the Dungeon cafe is your stop. Located in Shibuya, this Dungeon is a good taste of the unique - but not quite as unique as the famous "maid cafes".

This is one stop that is not meant for the kiddos, however, so we would recommend going with a single friend while the younger members of your group head to Tokyo Disneyland. You both will be in for a spook-tacular surprise. We won't give away too many details, but you will be enclosed in a small dungeon cell with interesting food you haven't heard of before, in true mad scientist fashion.

Oh, and you don't just walk into the restaurant. Suffice to say, you find your way . . . one way or another.

Tokyo Disneyland

Disneyland - on foreign shores! This massive playground has seven stages in its walls- the World Bazaar at the entry; Westernland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland and Fantasyland; then there are two more petite areas: Mickey's Toontown and Critter Country.

Opened 30 years ago, Tokyo Disneyland has been a large success in the Rising Sun. It is ranked second in the world in number of visitors, beaten only by the original Disneyland in the USA.

Hundreds of events, a large number of rides, and your favorite movie characters star this themed park just like its namesake. Do be sure to purchase your tickets ahead, however. See you there!

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

The Little Boy atomic blast exploded almost immediately overhead above the structure of the "Atomic Bomb Dome" in this park - missing it by a mere 600 feet. A memorial to the 400,000 victims of the atomic blasts, this area is a sad reminder of the after effects of war. Different monuments are erected in memory of those lost their lives. Some of these victim's stories before and after the attack are noted on the monuments too, so bring a translation book or a friend fluent in Japanese to help you understand the purpose of each one.

Especially moving is the tale of Sadako Sasaki, the young girl who suffered the blast at two years old. Her monument is comprised of thousands of paper cranes in keeping with her legend.

There are usually student bodies touring around the park grounds, so be prepared to be approached by a few asking for signatures on petitions.

Yakushima Island

Beautiful, windswept, and wet! Be sure to bring along your waterproof slicker, for this boggy paradise will leave you breathless with its view - if the hiking didn't do it beforehand, that is!

Be sure to rent a car, whether or not you pledge to take all 5 hours of hiking in this island. There is even a trail that ends in a visit to one of the oldest trees in the world. You can also stay at Morinokokage for a good night's rest, after kayaking in Anbo.

Stepping onto the isle felt more like a step back into the past than the other areas we visited. With Japan being one of the most prominent countries in developing modern technology, Yakushima held onto a bit more of the past - more a one on one commune with nature.

Nihon Sankei

Miyajima, Amanohashidate, and Matsushima make Japan's million dollar views, which are collectively known as "Nihon Sankei".

Miyajima is a beautiful, isolated island ( ancient law forbids giving birth or dying on the island to this day), well known for its "floating" tori gates. Still considered a holy place, be sure to take pictures of your trip to the sacred isle, and the view from its shores.

Miyazu Bay mouth starts the Amanohashidate, which is a sandbar covered in beautiful pine trees. In Amanohashidate, feel free to explore the sandbars and tour by boat, or sip some warm tea and watch the waves pass and take your worries with them.

Matsushima has Zuiganji, a beautiful Zen temple, as well as multiple miniature isles in its bay to kayak around.

Each one is breathtaking by itself, but we would definitely recommend seeing each one before you leave Japan.

Ueno Zoo

Open for 133 years (so far!) the Ueno Zoo covers a little over 35 acres filled with exotic wildlife. Rare animals of all sorts abound in this area as well. International cooperation made the Ueno Zoo one of the few places where endangered animals are bred. Other areas in partnership with Ueno are the San Diego Zoo in the US, Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico, and the Bejing Zoo in China. A full line of communication between the zoos offers better and better futures for our furry and scaly friends, with tips and tricks on animal breeding and husbandry making these zoos more successful each year in their endeavors.

If you take a small train ride to the west side, there is a petting zoo for the little one to take a "hands on" approach, and a few restaurants make grabbing a bite on the go a breeze. There are also lockers (with a small fee) that will keep your valuables that are too heavy to lug around.

Over 460 animal species make their home here, so be prepared for lots of information on each one. An educational as well as a fun trip, be sure and stop by the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo before leaving the country.

Hakozaki Shrine

There are many shrines in Kyushu, many very popular shrines that make tourist destinations' list of stops, but few are as popular as Hakozaki in the Chikuzen region.

This shrine was burned once in a skirmish with the Mongol invasion, but rebuilt with an addition. The plea of the invader's defeat was written in gold-framed kanji by Emperor Kameyama after the shrine was rebuilt. Dedicated to Hachiman, the god of archery, this busy shrine was originally mentioned all the way back in 921. Talk about aging well!

After its establishment, the Emperor Oji became its guardian spirit - keeping the shrine's new mantra of compassion for all things that live, and punish the theft of life from another being. The Hojoya festival celebrates this mantra in full force every autumn.

The Hojoya and Tamaseseri festivals are held here annually, with many locals and tourists joining in on the fun. Well lit by lanterns after dark, browse the flowering garden and stare in awe at the enormous Sakura Gate that makes this destination an imposing sight.

Snow in Niseko

Image created by Margot Hamer

While Niseko isn't anything to sneeze at in the warmer months, it becomes a winter paradise in the colder parts of the year. Summer brings sunny hikes and bikes, local fresh grown produce, and walks by warm, inviting ponds. Located on the main island, this resort becomes a veritable fairytale after the first good cold blanket of snow.

Well know for its "champagne powder" quality snow, Niseko became a popular spot for ski parties, snowboarders, and photographers. Niseko is located on Mt. Yotei, very much similar in appearance to Mt. Fuji.

The festivals are not to be missed, either! Kutchan Yukitopia Festival (full of snowy surprises and events), Kutchan Jaga Matsuri (celebrating the potato, musicians and vendors make the most of this festival), and Kaributo-jinja Festival (a shrine celebration), are a feast for the eyes and the soul.

Ashikaga Flower Park

The Fuji are beautiful every year - nope, not the mountain! (Though Mt. Fuji is gorgeous too!) Fuji is the Japanese name for their favorite flowering plant - the wisteria tree. Photos of these massive, carefully - tended trees circulate the Internet most of the time, but nothing could be compared to standing underneath one of these beautiful flower displays. It's not limited to Fuji, either, but each flower does compliment the wisteria theme of the garden.

Yellow, white, blue and pink wisteria trees will vie for your attention, carefully grown in hallways or trellises. Be aware, however, that there will not be any placards or information available in English, so bring a bilingual friend, or at worst, a translation book.

May is peak season for this beautiful botanical bowery, so if you do plan your trip in the spring months try to stop by and take a few snapshots.

The Womb

photo from Womb site

No, you aren't being born again; really far from it, to be honest. This pulsing dance club is a stop for the adults of your entourage, to enjoy different mixes of music and some good drinks with pleasant company.

Founded back in 2000, it holds the largest mirror-ball in all of Asia, four floors with a different layout for your different needs, and a rooftop garden to get away from it all. The door tickets are cash only too; but the drinks and food inside are available for purchase with a credit card.

You can purchase your tickets at the door; expect a small hike in prices however. They also are pretty good sticklers about forms of I.D. - the list of identification they accept is found on their website. We went ahead and put a link below - it is available in English and Japanese as well.

The club encourages you to dress how you like (except your birthday suit) and the only thing it does not allow off the bat are flip flops for personal safety.

We hope you have a blast, see you there!



Events on schedule for The Womb Lounge in Japan

Iwatayama Monkey Park

Let your ancestral instincts guide you - nah, we are totally kidding. Climb into a cage and spend some one on one time with macaque monkeys, feeding and interacting with several in your cage with you.

Well, it'll be about a 30 minute good cardio hike to get there, with steep climbs and switchbacks along the way. Wear some comfy clothes and springy shoes and you should arrive in no time.

Don't let them fool you, however; these fellows are not tame at all. Full eye contact is heavily discouraged - male macaques can be enraged by it. Especially considering you are in their cage, this isn't a great idea.

After you've finished giving the monkeys munch time, wander around the grounds without any holds or bars between you. The baby monkeys are absolutely adorable as they play, so bring your camera with lots of memory!

Benesse Art - Naoshima

photo via Tony Culshaw

Health, happiness, and the well-being of mankind is the central theme of the Benesse Art galleries; a peaceful spot to enjoy the fine arts. Located across Naoshima, the website (we've included the link) will let you know travel times, pitch differences (for those of us who like a walk), and easiest routes from each island.

A museum, hotel, and art gallery in all one, a trip here is sure to take care of all your creature comforts as well as feed your soul. A park, a beach, the Oval ( the hotel rooms ), spa, restaurant/cafe, and shop await you there.

We enjoyed being able to take in a few paintings, walk around the shop, relax in our room, and then come back for more. The shop was reasonably priced as well as the rooms, so our checkbooks thanked us in the end!

LAOX Shopping

Over thirty electronic stores are located in this shopping center and nerd paradise. This shopping emporium has more than the latest video games. A variety of shops offer beauty products, watches, jewelry, fashion design, food, and more.

The shop staff were very friendly, and a few stores had employees that spoke near perfect American English, making our shopping that much easier. Some of the items on sale were a little out of our price range, but after wistfully looking at the high-tech toys, we stopped by a ramen shop to slurp some noodles and discuss our finds.

The kiddos found plenty to go wild over, from Micky Mouse mousepads to game systems that were never released in the Americas. It took over a day to visit each store and browse all of their selections, so we stayed at the nearby Chang Tee and came back when the shops opened.

Bring some extra yen for the goodies!

From trips to the most remote parks the the bustling city streets, our tour of Japan helped develop a taste for a more historic culture. Slurping noodles with the local regulars, walking ancient paths that have existed for hundreds of years, and kayaked around untouched virgin forests.

We ran into a surprising number of bilingual locals during our travels, even on the less popular roads. A good translation book was extremely helpful too, we used Random House and it worked pretty well.

The toilets had us giggle, the ancient shrines had us take a breath in wonder, and the animal sanctuaries had us on cute overload. We hope your trip to Japan was just as wonderful as ours, and happy traveling!

Insert image credited to mikiyo yamanaka via freeimages.com

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