A view of Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima island, Japan.
Japan

7 unique and unforgettable experiences to add to your Japan bucket list

Japan is all about amazing, unique and unforgettable bucket list experiences. 100% satisfaction is guaranteed even to the most seasoned travellers.
Beauty, tranquillity and spirituality of temples and shrines that invite you to slow down and contemplate.
The futuristic Shinkansen that whizzes you by the majestic Fuji at 250 km/h.
The heavenly food that will send your taste buds to ecstasy.
The amazing society that is so modern and yet upkeeps the thousand-year-old traditions.

Here’s a list of 7 ultimate Japan bucket list experiences, which you can enjoy during our 10-day Japan itinerary. This wonderful country has won our hearts with them, and we’re sure it will win yours as well.

Stay in a ryokan

View of a ryokan room. Staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, is a perfect bucket list experience in Japan.
Cozy room, exquisite meals, relaxing hot tubs… staying in a great ryokan is one of our favorite bucket list experiences from Japan.

Imagine subtle luxury.
Imagine a beautiful garden that invites you to unwind and relax.
Imagine taking a hot outside bath while you watch as snowflakes silently fall on the ground.
Imagine the feast-for-your-eyes, ecstasy-for-your-taste-buds gourmet meal.
Imagine having a personal attendant who somehow always knows what you need without you having to ask for it.

Yes, imagine yourself staying in a great ryokan.

Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, and we definitely recommend adding spending a night or two in a great ryokan to your Japan bucket list. The experience is incomparable to staying in a hotel, no matter how luxurious one.

It ain’t any cheap thrill, but the experience will possibly be one of the best ones from your trip to Japan.

Hakone is a great place on our 10-day Japan itinerary where to splurge and treat yourself to the ultimate ryokan experience!

Ride a Shinkansen

Picture of a Shinkansen parked at Osaka station.
Fast and futuristic, Shinkansen is not only a great way how to travel around Japan, but an amazing bucket experience in itself.

If there was a sci-fi train magazine, Shinkansen would be on the cover.

The bullet train has been safely carrying people in Japan for 55 years already, and even nowadays it still looks as futuristic as ever. Its average delay is measured in seconds and its average speed is well above 200 km/h.

It will stop exactly at the correct spot at the platform.
It will depart exactly on time.
It will arrive exactly on time (and if it misses for even just a few seconds, the train attendant will apologize – don’t you just love the Japanese culture?).
And the ride will be so smooth that you will forget you’re riding at almost 300 km/h kilometres per hour!

So sit back, perhaps have a cup of matcha tea and enjoy the scenery of majestic Mount Fuji behind the windows as you travel from Kyoto to Tokyo.

Saying that a Shinkansen is a train that you’ll take several times during our 10-day Japan itinerary is technically correct, but it’s a huge understatement.

Shinkansen is a tribute to Japanese engineering, their sense of precision and attention to detail. Riding the Shinkansen is one of the quintessential Japan bucket list experiences.

And, if you use a Japan Rail Pass, it will make your travel all over Japan fast, comfortable, and comparatively inexpensive!

Rail travel never felt so cool before.

Feel the spiritual power of temples and shrines

View of Kinkaku-ji temple in Kyoto.
Japanese temples invite you to step in, slow down, contemplate and be enchanted by beauty.

No matter what your religion is, the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are undoubtedly special places.

Places of immense beauty and strong spiritual power.

Places that invite you to step in, slow down, contemplate and be enchanted by beauty.

Some are small and some are grand, some are standing next to a skyscraper and some are well hidden in the mountains.

They offer inspiration, mysteriousness, picturesqueness and calmness.

Whether you watch a sunset behind the floating torii gate of Itsukushima, greet the little stone foxes as you walk through the mysterious torii gates of Fushimi Inari or admire the shiny and picturesque golden temple Kinkaku-ji, the experiences and memories will be beautiful.

Japanese temples and shrines are well worth adding to your Japan bucket list. There’s a good reason so many of them are Unesco World Heritage sites!

And perhaps you’ll be lucky to spot a traditional Japanese wedding at one of the shrines?

Admire the mighty Fuji

View of Mt. Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi.
Awe-inspiring and beautiful Mt. Fuji, one of the quintessential symbols of Japan.

With its perfect conical shape, standing 3776 metres high above the Country of the Rising Sun, the snow-capped Fuji is a beautiful and sacred mountain and a quintessential symbol of Japan.

The volcanic Fujisan has been a source of inspiration for Japanese art, music and poetry for centuries and we believe everyone can find something inspiring and soul-lifting in this mighty mountain.

Whether it shows its beauty to you is obviously weather-dependent, but if it does, it will be an awe-inspiring sight to behold.

You can watch it from Tokyo Skytree, a hundred kilometres away, you can admire it during a beautiful sunrise from Chureito Pagoda and snap that perfect postcard view of Japan, or perhaps you can catch the first glimpse of it already from the airplane while descending towards Tokyo.

Do you like it hardcore? Then why not watch the sunrise right from the summit – the official hiking season runs from beginning of July to the end of August.

Enjoy the freshest sushi in the world

A view of a plate of sushi. Sampling Japanese cuisine is one of the bucket list experiences not to be missed in Japan.
Japan is a perfect place to send your taste buds to ecstasy.

Food alone is an excellent reason to visit Japan.

All those mouth-watering teppanyaki, sukiyaki, okonomiyaki and other yaki and all the delicious ramen and udon and soba and other noodle delicacies and all the amazing sushi and sashimi and, oh my lucky taste buds, they are screaming with happiness ‘cos Japan is a gastronomic paradise!

The quality of the ingredients is extremely high, no matter whether you slurp on your udon from a street stall or dine on a kaiseki dinner in a fancy restaurant.

We definitely do recommend trying out kaiseki – the Japanese haute cuisine, perhaps during your stay in a ryokan.

While your taste buds will be floating in ecstasy, your eyes will feast on the visual artistic presentation of the food and your brain will acknowledge that food is an unforgettable experience in Japan that definitely needs to be on your Japan bucket list.

Visit an onsen

A view of an onsen. Visiting an outdoor hot tub is a perfect bucket list experience in Japan.
Hot water, cold snow…damn, visiting an onsen felt so good!

The last of the day’s light is slowly fading away as a starry night is taking over. The trees still have plenty of their beautiful red and crimson leaves on, yet they are now covered by the fresh white snow. It looks wonderful and a bit eerie as well.

I’m soaking in an onsen – an outdoor hot tub –  in our ryokan in Gora and watching the snowflakes as they silently fall into my tub. There’s noone else, the whole onsen is mine. Damn, this feels good.

This feels amazing!

Being of volcanic origin, Japan has an abundance of natural hot springs. They might have different mineral contents, different temperature, different healing effects but one thing they all have in common is – they are a very pleasant experience.

A great place where to enjoy onsen is in a ryokan. Many ryokans offer both indoor and outdoor hot tubs, and some even have rooms with your private onsen.

Celebrate Hanami or Momijigari with the Japanese

A view of Mt. Fuji from Chureito pagoda with a foreground of fall foliage.
Whether they are blooming in spring or turning red in fall, they are beautiful. And watching the locals get excited about their sakura trees is an experience in itself.

The sun’s rays are already pleasantly warm, the days are getting longer and the air is soaked with the subtle fragrance of blooming sakura.

The spring has arrived to Japan and the cherry trees – or sakura – are in full blossom, showing their beautiful white and pink flowers like a painter’s masterpiece.

No wonder this is a reason to celebrate!

Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, is a centuries-old custom in Japan. The Japanese simply love to sit in the park under the trees, have a picnic and admire enthusiastically the beauty of blooming sakura.

Similarly, when the trees are turning yellow and red and crimson in fall, it causes a great excitement, and Japanese again gather in the parks and in the nature to watch all the splendid colors that mother nature has painted. The fall foliage viewing is called Momijigari and, similar to Hanami, is a centuries-old custom.

Isn’t it cute that the Japanese society with all of their ultramodern electronic gadgets still upkeeps their centuries-old customs and traditions?

Noone else has mastered to seamlessly combine the old and the new like the Japanese: they will watch a forecast issued by the met office on an app on their smartphone. The forecast tells them when exactly the cherry blossom season starts in their city, and then they gather to the park to enjoy their centuries-old tradition of blossom viewing.

Unique? Yes, that’s Japan!

Whether you join the locals in popular parks in Kyoto or Tokyo for hanami or momijigari (expect crowds) or find a spot for yourself perhaps by the shore of Ashinoko or Fuji Five Lakes, viewing the cherry blossoms or admiring the fall foliage are beautiful and quintessentially Japanese experiences for your Japan bucket list.

In conclusion…

Is this everything to do in Japan? Of course, not.

Tokyo alone could fill up your Japan itinerary: there’s Shibuya district with its neon lights, crowds, huge department stores, and anime; there’s the robot restaurant for a dinner with an incredible show; Tsukiji fish market (now Toyosu market) where you can get fish as fresh as it goes; and so on…

And then there’s the rest of Japan, which is full of wonders as well: Hiroshima with the incredible Peace Memorial museum where you can see how both things and people look after an atomic bomb blows up, and the Peace Memorial park with the Eternal flame and paper doves; the island Miyajima, Hakone, the list goes on.

There are so many places, things, and experiences to choose from in Japan that it is impossible to do them all during a short vacation!

That’s why we have chosen these 7 top things to do in Japan which are the ones that we think must definitely be on your Japan bucket list!

Have you already visited Japan or are planning to go? What are the things you wouldn’t want to miss?


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7 things you can't leave out of your Japan bucket list

Michal is the writer and photographer of the Wanderlust Designers.

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