Japan is known for many things. From its iconic Mt. Fuji to pop culture, technology, and their propensity for doing things just a little bit differently, Japan has certainly put itself on the map as a modern city worthy of a visit or several. It is a culture rich in history with a great deal of festivals and traditions that represent the beauty of this unique country. Whether you are looking to visit the real-word inspirations for your favorite anime or for a deep dive into the language and culture that can be found nowhere else in the world, Japan is sure to captivate your senses and leave you wanting more.
Japan allows for visa-free entry for 68 countries including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Please visit The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan for a list of eligible countries.
Visa free entry is granted for 90 for all countries except for Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, and United Arab Emirates. Additional restrictions may apply to your area, please see the details outlines on the MOFA of Japan webpage above.
In addition to visa-free entry, Japan also offers working holiday opportunities for overseas travelers from 26 nations who wish to live in Japan short-term while working at least part-time. This opportunity is not available to the United States (sorry fellow Americans). Please visit MOFA’s page on Working Holiday Program for more information.
Things to Do
Here are a few recommended places to visit while travelling in Japan. Please note that this a very incomplete list, and there is plenty more that Japan has to offer than I could fit on here. for more complete lists, Check out the Lonely Planet Japan Guides: Lonely Planet Japan (17th Edition), Lonely Planet Tokyo (13th Edition)/ Pocket (8th Ed.), Lonely Planet Kyoto (7th ed.)/ Pocket Kyoto & Osaka (3rd Ed.).
Nihonbashi Dashi Bar Hanare (Umami) - Nihonbashi, Tokyo
Ain Soph (Vegan) - Ginza, Tokyo
Hagiso (Cafe) - Yanaka, Tokyo
Kappo Yoshiba (Japanese, Sushi) - Yokoami, Tokyo
Nagi (Ramen) - Kabukicho, Tokyo
Kozue (Japanese) - Shinjuku, Tokyo
Matsukiya (Hotpot) - Shibuya, Tokyo
Matsubara-an (Soba) - Kamakura, Kanagawa
Sarashina (Tanuki Soba) - Kiyomachi, Gifu
Kyoya (Shokudo) - Kyomachi, Takayama
Itaru Honten (Izakaya) - Kakinokibatake, Kanazawa
Saryo Suisen (Sweets) - Takatsujicho, Kyoto
Roan Kikunoi (Kaiseki) - Shimogyo, Kyoto
Kagizen Yoshifusa (Teahouse) - Kitagawa, Kyoto
Endo Sushi (Sushi) - Fukushima, Osaka
Wanaka Honten (Takoyaki) - Minami, Osaka
Imai Honten (Kitsune Udon) - Dotonburi, Osaka
Ganso Kushikatsu Daruma Honten (Kushikatsu) - Tennoji, Osaka
Modernark (Vegan/Vegetarian) - Kitanagasa, Kobe
Kob Plaisir (Wagyu) - Shimoyamate, Kobe
Hiraso (Japanese, Local) - Imamikado, Nara
Okonomi-mura (Okonomiyaki) - Shintenchi, Hiroshima
Gengo Chaya (Cafe, Local) - Aoba, Sendai
Robata (Mongolian) - Zao Onsen, Yamagata
Menya Saimi (Ramen) - Toyohira, Sapporo
Kouhihausu (Soup Curry) - Chuo, Sapporo
Daruma (Mongolian) - Chuo, Sapporo
Yunagi (Okinawan)- Naha, Okinawa
Takeshita-dori (Street) - Harajuku, Tokyo
Shibuya Center-gai (Street) - Shibuya, Tokyo
Toyosu Market (Fish Market) - Toyosu, Tokyo
KITTE (Shopping Complex) - Chiyoda, Tokyo
Mitsukoshi (Department Store) - Multiple Locations, original in Nihonbashi, Tokyo
Ginza Six (Shopping Complex) - Ginza, Tokyo
Tokyo Mid-Town (Shopping Complex) - Minato, Tokyo
Ameya- yokocho (Street) - Ueno, Tokyo
Isetan (Department Store) - Shinjuku, Tokyo
La Foret (Department Store) - Harajuku, Tokyo
Don Quijote (Department Store) - Multiple Locations, Mega Donki in Shibuya, Tokyo
Komehyo (Department Store) - Osu, Nagoya
Nishiki Market - Nakagyo, Kyoto
Kitano Tenman-gu (Shrine, Flea Market) - Kamigyo, Kyoto
Amerika-Mura (Area) - Shinsaibashi, Osaka
Canal City (Shopping Center) - Sumiyoshi, Fukuoka
TeNQ (Science Museum) - Koraku, Tokyo
Ueno Zoo - Ueno, Tokyo
Tokyo Skytree (Tower) - Sumida, Tokyo
National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation - Aomi, Tokyo
Tokyo Disney (Theme Park) - Urayasu, Chiba
Tokyo Joypolis (VR and Amusement Park) - Minato, Tokyo
Spa LaQua (Spa, Onsen) - Bunkyo, Tokyo
Ele Tokyo (Club) - Minato, Tokyo
Ben Fiddich (Cocktail Bar) - Shinjuku, Tokyo
Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience (teahouse, Cocktail Bar) - Aoyama, Tokyo
Karaoke Rainbow - Shibuya, Tokyo
Jicoo The Floating Bar - Minato, Tokyo
Robot Restuarant - Shinjuku, Tokyo
Fuji-Q Highland (Amusement Park) - Fuji-Yoshida
Kirin Beer Yokohama Factory - Tsurumi, Yokohama
Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology and Toyota Exhibition Hall - Nagoya
Umeda Sky Building - Kita, Osaka
Shin-Sekai (District) - Tennoji, Osaka
Universal Studios Japan - Konohana, Osaka
Spa World (Onsen Amusement Park) - Naniwa, Osaka
Sone (Jazz Club) - Nakayamate, Kobe
Mazda Museum - Aki, Hiroshima
Kamotsuru (Brewery) - Saijo
Sapporo Beer Museum - Higashi, Sapporo
Space Science and Technology Museum - Kukinaga, Tanegashima
Mori Art Museum - Roppongi Hills, Tokyo
Suntory Art Museum - Minato, Tokyo
Kanda Myojin (Shrine) - Chiyoda, Tokyo
Tokyo National Museum (Art) - Ueno, Tokyo
Nezu-jinja (Shrine) - Bunkyo, Tokyo
Ueno Tosho-gu (Shrine) - Ueno, Tokyo
Senso-ji (Temple) - Asakusa, Tokyo
Ghibli Museum (Pop-Culture) - Mitaka, Tokyo
Meiji-jingu (Temple) - Shibuya, Tokyo
Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art - Shibuya, Tokyo
Kabukiza (Kabuki Theatre) - Ginza, Tokyo
National Theatre (Traditional Theatre) - Chiyoda, Tokyo
Cup Noodle Museum - Naka-Ku, Yokohama
Hase-dera (Temple) - Hase, Kamakura
Okada Museum of Art - Kawakidani
Tosho-gu (Shrine) - Nikko
Taiyuin-byo (Shrine) - Nikko
Inuyama-jo (Castle) - Inuyama
Matsumoto-ko (Castle) - Matsumoto
Tofuku-ji (Temple) - Hagashiyama, Kyoto
Higashi Hongan-ji (Temple) - Shimogyo, Kyoto
Kyoto International Manga Museum - Nakagyo, Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera (Temple) - Hagashiyama, Kyoto
Gion (Geisha District) - Kyoto
Kinkaku-ji (Temple) - Sakyo, Kyoto
Nanzen-ji (Temple) - Sakyo, Kyoto
Heian Jingu (Shrine) - Sakyo, Kyoto
Shimogamo-jinja (Shrine) - Shimogamo, Kyoto
Liberty Osaka (Human Right Museum) - Naniwa, Osaka
Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum - Ikeda, Osaka
Todai-ji (Temple) - Daibutsuden, Nara
Oku-no-in (Temple) - Kyoya-San
Ishinomori Mangattan Museum - Nakase, Ishinomaki
Roppongi Hills (Park) - Roppongi, Tokyo
Shinjuku Gyoen (Park) - Shinjuku, Tokyo
Megurogawa (Canal) - Tokyo
Mt. Fuji - Outside Tokyo
Aokigahara (forest) - Sai-Ko
Owakudani (Volcanic Site) - Kanagawa
Dogashima Marine (Water Tour) - Dogashima
Joren-no-taki (Waterfall) - Tugashima, Shujen-ji
Kegan-no-taki (Waterfall) Chugushi, Chuzen-ji
Gyokusen Inmaru Garden - Honda-machi, Kanazawa
Happo-One Ski Resort - Hakuba
Eikan-do (Park) - Higashiyama, Kyoto
Tetsugaku no Michi (park) - Higashiyama, Kyoto
Kyoto Botanical Gardens - Sakyo, Kyoto
Arashiyama Monkey Park - Arashiyama, Kyoto
Nunobiki Falls - Kobe
Nachi-no-taki (Waterfall) - Kumano
Sanzen-in (Temple, Garden) - Ohara
Tottori-Sakyu (Sand Dunes) - Tottori
Daisen (Volcano) - Dainen-Oki National Park
Dewa Sanzen (mountains) -Tohoku
Sapporo Teine (Snow Sports) - Sapporo outskirts
Niseko Adventure Centre (Outdoor Activity Center) - Niseko
Sounkyo (Gorge) - Hokkaido
Nagata Inaka-hama (Beach) - Yakushima
Amuse Museum (Faolk Museum) - Asakusa, Tokyo
Edo-Tokyo Museum - Sumida, Tokyo
Sai-Ko Iyashi-no-Sato Nenba (Traditional Village) - Sai-Ko
NYK Hikawa Maru (Ship, Museum) - Naka-ku, Yokohama
Nikko-Tosho-gu Museum - Nikko
Meiji-mura (Museum) - Uchiyama, Inuyama
Gifu City History Museum - Omiya-cho, Gifu
Hida Folk Village - Takayama
Fukui Dinosaur Museum - Katsuyama, Toyama
Togakushi Folk Museum & Ninja House - Togakushi
Kyoto Railway Museum - Shimogyo, Kyoto
Kyoto Imperial Palace - Kamigyo, Kyoto
Osaka-jo (Castle) - Chuo, Osaka
Osaka Museum of History - Chuo, Osaka
Port of Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park - Merkien Park, Kobe
Kobe City Museum - Kyomachi, Kobe
Himeji-jo (Castle) - Honmachi, Himeji
Nara National Museum (Art and History) - Borioji, Nara
Takamatsuzuka-kofun (Tomb) - Asuka
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park - Nakaku, Hiroshima
Atomic Bomb Dome - Otemachi, Hiroshima
Buke Yashiki (Samurai House) - Kitahori, Matsue
Iwami Ginzan (Mine) - Near Izumo
Sannai Maruyama (Archaeological Museum) - Aomori
Iimoriyama (Memorial) - Aizu-Wakamatsu
Hokkaido Museum - Atsubetsu, Hokkaido
Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall, Atomic Bomb Museum, and Peace Park - Urakami, Nagasaki
Things to consider
Japan has a variable climate due to it’s size and location, with the eastern side largely experiencing hot summers and cold winters while the west experiences even hotter summers with more moderate winter months. The region around the Sea of Japan, Hokkaido, and mountainous regions experience heavy snowfall during the winter. Okinawa and Amami are sub-tropic with warmer weather year-round with mild winters.
Japan is subject to natural disasters including Tsunamis, Earthquakes, and Monsoons.
Japan has a diverse landscape with 4 main islands and over 3500 small islands making up the Archipelago Nation. 80% of the country is comprised of mountains, with a multitude of active volcanoes including iconic Mt. Fuji (藤山 Fujiyama). The sea is never far away in Japan, given the elongated structure of the main island, no one lives much farther than 110Km from the surrounding waters. Due to the volcanic activity on the islands, hot springs are common and heavily utilized in Japan for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Japan is home to more than 90,000 wildlife species, including primates (like the Japanese Macaque), Bears, and many more. It is also home to many insect species and is famous for creatures like Giant Hornets, Rhinoceros Beetles, and Cicadas.
Japanese food is known for being healthy, but this isn’t always true: Like with most of the world, it really depends on where you go. Street foods, like Dango (団子), Takoyaki (蛸焼), and Taiyaki (鯛焼き) are easy and convenient, but far from healthy options. Similarly, ramen () is a heavy dish with many oils and starchy noodles. While these foods are great for the occasional quick bite, sustaining yourself on these Western-known staples will not result in the healthy lifestyle you may desire.
Traditional Japanese meals are traditionally quite balanced and typically consist of a small bowl of rice, a protein, soup, and vegetables. Common breakfast is salted salmon with miso soup and pickled vegetables. Rice, soybeans ,and seafood are common staples in Japanese cuisine. Consumption of beef and chicken are largely a western influence, but are still widely available. Eggs are commonly used and may be consumed raw in Japan. Fermentation is also a common practice, with dished like Fermented soybeans (納豆 Natto) serving as a controversially popular traditional Japanese dish. If you are vegetarian or vegan, be wary that many broths contain fish and meat products.
Common Allergens include Shellfish, seafood, soybeans, eggs, and dairy.
Eating and drinking while moving is generally frowned upon in Japan. Similarly, if you are a smoker, it is proper etiquette to stop and take a break to smoke rather than walking while smoking. Eating on public transportation is also widely prohibited, with the exception of long-haul trips where boxed lunches (弁当 Bento) are commonly sold before trips.
Japan has very few public trash receptacles, especially in public walking areas that are managed by the city. It is expected that you will carry your trash with you until you are able to find a place to throw it away. Convenience stores (コンビニ Konbini) are great for this! If you find public waste disposal, they are often broken down into various categories. These are to separate recycling, please make sure you are sorting your trash properly when throwing it away. Not all bathrooms will have bathroom tissue, so many carry a small pack with them in their pocket or handbag. You can find them in most convenience stores, and they are also commonly handed out in department stores as promotional materials.
Japan is known for being extremely punctual, especially when it comes to public transportation. Expect trains to arrive on time, typically down to the second, and expect an apology if they are not.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Japanese toilets: Advanced technology with various buttons. Everywhere you go, they work a little different. But if you are in a more traditional area, you may encounter something else: Squat toilets. They may seem intimidating, but they just take getting used to.
Japan does not have a large tipping culture. In fact, if you try to tip in a restaurant, you will most likely be chased down by the service staff to let you know you left change. Not only does it lead to confusion, but some may find it insulting as it makes employers feel you think they are not being paid enough and makes employees feel like you think they need handouts. There are a few times when tipping is acceptable, but most of the time it’s better to not tip.
While you may encounter the occasional boisterous youth, it is common practice to speak at a conservative tempo. On public transportation it is especially important to keep your voice down, as many don’t talk at all on the trains. You will gather a lot of unwanted attention by being the loud foreigner.
Tokyo – Typically the first city peope think of when they hear Japan, Tokyo is Japan’s haven for international tourists. With it’s modern city vibe, endless attractions, department stores, and dining experiences, and several iconic landmarks, Tokyo is not one to be missed.
Osaka – Osaka may not be as well known as Tokyo, it has plenty to offer. As part of the Kansai region, Osaka is known for having a more relaxed atmosphere with friendlier people. With less of a tourist population and a more laid-back populous, many people may be more eager to try speaking English with you. it is a great place for food and night life.
Kyoto – If it is history you are looking for, Kyoto should be at the top of your list. The heart of Japan’s history and one of its many former capitol cities, Kyoto is filled with temples, castles, classic alleys, and delicious food. For a more traditional experience, this is the place to be.
Hiroshima – Known mostly for the iconic bombing from World War II, Hiroshima is a place for WWI history buffs to visit. It serves as a dark reminder of the events, Japan’s role during that time, and the Consequences of modern warfare.
Sapporo – Known for their beer, there is plenty more that this northern city has to offer. Sapporo and the greater Hokkaido are have plenty of signature dishes including local ramen recipes and an array of seafood. Try visit during the winter, and try to catch the Snow festival, where you will see some pretty impressive snow and ice sculptures.
Okinawa – If you want to vacation like a local, visit Okinawa. This is Japan’s top beach destination and is part of a larger island prefecture which is comprised of more than 150 islands. It is also a huge American military hub, which means there is more American influence here than most of Japan if you are looking for something a bit more familiar.