Japan's Ultimate Bucket List Experiences

Whether it's climbing the iconic Mount Fuji, partaking in the vibrant cherry blossom festivals, or experiencing the speed of the Shinkansen, Japan is bound to captivate and inspire. As you plan your trip, consider these 15 bucket list experiences to truly capture the essence of Japan.


Climb Mount Fuji

A group of people climbing Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, Japan's highest peak, rising majestically to 3,776 meters, attracts a multitude of climbers, both experienced and novice, drawn to its iconic status and the rewarding views it offers. The best time to undertake this adventure is during the climbing season, which typically runs from early July to mid-September, providing safer conditions and more accessible routes.

For those aiming to reach the summit, there are several trails to choose from. The most popular is the Yoshida Trail, known for its well-marked path and numerous huts along the route. These huts provide climbers with rest, food, and even overnight accommodation, making the journey more manageable.


Witness Cherry Blossom Season

Osaka Castle during cherry blossom season

The Cherry Blossom Season in Japan, known as Sakura, draws visitors from around the world. This season typically occurs between mid-March and early April, varying slightly depending on geographical location.  Popular locations for witnessing the Sakura include the mountainous regions, where blossoms may appear slightly later, sometimes even in May. Renowned spots like Yoshino, Hirosaki Castle, Takato Castle Ruins Park, and the Fuji Five Lakes offer some of the best views.
Hanami festivals are integral to the Sakura season, where locals and tourists alike engage in outdoor picnics under the blooming cherry trees.  Researching bloom forecasts and planning accordingly is crucial to ensure the best viewing experience. The cherry blossom season is a highlight of Japan's springtime and a must-experience for any visitor to the country.


Ride the Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

The shinkansen (bullet train) passing Mount Fuji

The Shinkansen, commonly known as the bullet train, is an integral part of Japan's advanced transportation network. These high-speed trains, renowned for their punctuality and safety, connect major cities across Japan at speeds reaching up to 320 km/h (199 mph). The Shinkansen's efficiency and reliability are unmatched, with no recorded fatal accidents in its operational history, spanning over five decades. For travelers, the Japan Rail Pass presents a cost-effective solution, especially for those planning extensive travel across the country. This pass, available exclusively to foreign tourists, offers unlimited rides on most Japan Rail trains, including the Shinkansen, for periods of 7, 14, or 21 days.  The Shinkansen network spans several scenic routes, providing passengers with picturesque views of the Japanese landscape, ranging from coastal vistas to panoramic views of the countryside. The Shinkansen experience is a must for anyone visiting Japan, combining speed, comfort, and scenic views.


Discover Tokyo’s Pop Culture in Akihabara

Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

Akihabara, often referred to as the mecca of anime and manga, is a district in Tokyo that epitomizes Japan's rich pop culture. Known for its dense concentration of electronic stores, Akihabara is a paradise for tech enthusiasts and gamers, offering the latest gadgets and video games. The area is renowned for its extensive selection of manga and anime shops, where fans can find everything from rare collectibles to the latest releases. These shops, often several stories high, are filled with manga books, character merchandise, and anime DVDs, making them a must-visit for enthusiasts of Japanese animation. Akihabara also offers unique dining experiences with its themed maid cafes. In these cafes, waitresses dressed in maid costumes serve food and beverages, and often perform songs and dances for the guests.  For gaming enthusiasts, Akihabara boasts numerous video game stores and arcades where visitors can play both classic and contemporary games. The district also hosts various events and exhibitions related to anime, manga, and video games, making it a dynamic hub for pop culture enthusiasts.


Attend a Sumo Wrestling Match

Sumo wrestling in Japan

Sumo wrestling, an iconic Japanese sport deeply rooted in tradition, originated in ancient rituals. Making sumo more than just a sport; but a living example of Japanese culture. Sumo tournaments, known as basho, take place in major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka at specific times of the year, providing ample opportunity for visitors to witness this traditional sport. Beyond watching the intense matches, visitors can deepen their appreciation of sumo by visiting a sumo stable, where wrestlers live and train. These visits, however, require careful planning and respect for sumo customs, as they are not typical tourist attractions but rather places of serious athletic discipline. At the sumo stable, you might observe morning training sessions, known as asageiko, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the rigorous training routines and lifestyles of the wrestlers.


Relax in an Onsen Hot Spring

A hot spring (onsen) with a view of the mountains in Japan

Onsen, the Japanese hot springs, are a quintessential part of Japan's cultural fabric. These natural hot springs, fueled by volcanic activity, are scattered across the country, with each onsen town providing a distinct experience. The onsen experience is deeply ingrained in Japanese tradition, known not only for its relaxation qualities but also for the health benefits attributed to the mineral-rich waters. Bathing in an onsen is believed to improve circulation, relieve muscle pain, and promote overall well-being. When visiting an onsen, it's important to observe the etiquette. This includes washing and rinsing off thoroughly at the provided shower stations before entering the hot spring baths. Onsens are typically enjoyed without clothing, and towels are often used for modesty when moving around but should not be put in the water. Popular onsen towns like Hakone, Beppu, and Noboribetsu offer a range of onsen experiences, from public baths to private onsen in ryokans (traditional Japanese inns). Each location provides a unique setting, whether it's a mountainous backdrop, seaside views, or urban ambiance.


Partake in a Traditional Tea Ceremony

Traditional Tea Ceremony, Japan

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony also known as "chanoyu" or "sado," is more than just a ritual of preparing and drinking tea; it's a spiritual and philosophical journey that embodies harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Understanding the ritual is key to appreciating the tea ceremony fully. Every movement and aspect, from the preparation of the tea to the serving and drinking, is performed with utmost precision and care. The tea used is typically powdered green tea known as matcha, which is whisked with hot water. The tea ceremony is not just about drinking tea but also about the aesthetics, the appreciation of the subtle flavors and textures, and the connection between the host and the guest.


Visit the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Park

Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Park

The famous bathing snow monkeys are a highlight for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers alike. Located in the heart of the Japanese Alps near Nagano, this park is home to a group of wild Japanese macaques known for bathing in natural hot springs. The best time to visit Jigokudani Park is during the winter months, especially from December to March, when the area is blanketed in snow, and the monkeys frequently soak in the warm waters to escape the cold. However, the park is open year-round. The park's environment itself, with steamy hot springs surrounded by snowy landscapes, provides a magical backdrop, with the walk to the monkey park involving a trek through the forest, so appropriate footwear and clothing are advised.


Explore the Vibrant Streets of Osaka

Shinsekai, Osaka

Osaka, often referred to as Japan's kitchen, is a city renowned for its street food scene and nightlife. A visit to Osaka is incomplete without sampling its famous street foods. Takoyaki, ball-shaped snacks filled with octopus, and Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake loaded with a variety of ingredients, are must-tries. Dotonbori, a lively district in Osaka, is the perfect place to explore these and other local delicacies. The area is also a hotspot for nightlife, featuring numerous bars, clubs, and entertainment venues. Osaka is also home to several landmarks like Osaka Castle, a symbol of the city's historical significance. Meanwhile, the Umeda Sky Building, with its futuristic architecture, offers panoramic views of the city.


Visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

 Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto

The Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, known for its iconic Torii gates, is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice and prosperity. Visitors to the shrine can walk along the Torii path, which stretches over a network of trails leading into the wooded forest of Mount Inari. This hike, while accessible, can be moderately challenging but is worth the effort, unveiling smaller shrines and offering scenic views of Kyoto. Each gate along the path has been donated by individuals or businesses, hoping to gain favor with the deity Inari, and their names are inscribed on the gates. The shrine is open 24 hours and is accessible at any time. Walking through the seemingly endless Torii gates is both awe-inspiring and serene, making it a must-visit site in Japan.


Stay in a Traditional Ryokan

a Traditional Ryokan

A Ryokan, a type of traditional Japanese inn, provides an authentic experience of Japanese hospitality. These establishments are renowned for their serene atmosphere, refined simplicity, and meticulous attention to detail. The rooms typically feature tatami mat flooring, futon beds, and sliding doors, maintaining a minimalist aesthetic.  Understanding and respecting Ryokan etiquette is crucial. This includes removing shoes before entering, wearing the provided yukata (a casual kimono), and observing onsen (hot spring bath) protocols if available. Many Ryokans also have communal baths, segregated by gender, where guests can relax.


Savor Japanese Sushi and Sashimi

A variety of sushi rolls

For lovers of seafood, indulging in sushi and sashimi is a non-brainer when visiting Japan. Sushi and sashimi in Japan are not just about raw fish; they represent a wide array of regional varieties and styles. Each region in Japan has its specialties, influenced by local flavors and ingredients. From the classic Tokyo-style nigiri to the unique sushi delicacies of Osaka, every area offers its interpretation of these dishes. Visitors can also partake in sushi-making workshops, where seasoned chefs demonstrate the art of sushi preparation.


Visit Okinawa’s Beaches and Dive Sites

A beach with clear water and blue sky in Kerama, Okinawa, Japan

Okinawa, an archipelago of over 160 island is often referred to as the "Hawaii of Japan,"  The beaches in Okinawa are known for their crystal-clear waters and diverse marine life. They offer some of the best diving spots in the world, where one can encounter an array of sea creatures, including whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, and even the rare Okinawa Dugong.  Beyond its natural beauty, Okinawa is known for its distinct island culture, which differs markedly from the mainland. For travelers looking to combine relaxation with adventure, Okinawa's beaches and dive sites are indispensable on the Japan travel itinerary.


Take a Walk in Historic Nara Park

Nara Park, Japan

Located in the city of Nara, the park is famous for its freely roaming deer, considered sacred and protected. Legend has it that these deer are divine messengers, a belief stemming from a myth where a deity visited the area on a white deer. Visitors to Nara Park can interact with the approximately 1,400 deer that inhabit the area. The experience is made even more special by feeding them with "shika senbei" (deer crackers), available for purchase within the park.  Beyond the deer, Nara Park is home to several historical sites that contribute to its status as a must-visit location. Among these is the Todaiji Temple, renowned for being the world’s largest wooden building and housing a gigantic Buddha statue. Other notable landmarks include the Nandaimon Gate and Kasugataisha Shrine.


Attend a Festival

A Japanese bon-odori dance festival

Among the myriad of festivals in Japan, some stand out for their unique characteristics and significance. For instance, the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, renowned for its grand parade of floats and traditional music, showcases the elegance of ancient Kyoto culture. Meanwhile, the Sapporo Snow Festival transforms the city into a winter wonderland, displaying snow sculptures and ice art. Another remarkable festival is the Awa Odori, held in Tokushima, with vibrant dance performances to celebrate summer. The Tanabata Festival, celebrated across Japan, is marked by colorful decorations and the tradition of writing wishes on tanzaku papers, symbolizing hope and dreams. When attending a Japanese festival, visitors are encouraged to engage with the local customs – whether it's trying traditional festival foods like yakitori and takoyaki, wearing a yukata, or participating in dances and games.


Explore the Nightlife in Shibuya or Shinjuku

Shibuya, Tokyo

The districts of Shibuya and Shinjuku are at the heart of Tokyo’s dynamic nightlife scene.  Shibuya, famous for its iconic crossing, by night, transforms into a lively spot with numerous bars, nightclubs, and restaurants.  Shinjuku, on the other hand, offers a more eclectic nightlife experience. It is home to the renowned Kabukicho, often referred to as Tokyo's red-light district, which is filled with a variety of entertainment options including karaoke bars, host and hostess clubs, and themed restaurants.  Visitors can also enjoy live music venues, comedy clubs, and even gaming arcades that stay open late into the night.



A bucket list for Japan will always fall short of everything the country has to offer. Though, we hope this list will serve as an inspiration and invitation for travelers to create their own unique journey, and let curiosity be their guide and companion, as they explore the wonders of Japan.