It’s no secret that the land of the rising sun is one of the most unique and mysterious tourist spots in the world. Japan has its own flair that you really can’t find anywhere else in the world. But just how unique is it? We’re going to go over 21 things you can do only in Japan that cannot be done anywhere else.
Stay in a Ryokan
Most people who choose to visit Japan are often really curious and fascinated by how traditional Japanese houses look and you can see a lot of social media posts from people who had the rare opportunity to stay in a Ryokan. Ryokan is the Japanese version of inns and this invention dates back to the 8th century. If you happen to be in Asakusa District, this is where the best ryokans in Tokyo are located. Additionally, if you’re looking for more ryokans in different parts of Japan, check out these offers. Ryokans accommodate all features that you would find in an average Japanese house like; tatami matted rooms, a kotatsu, communal baths with hot springs and other public areas, and while staying there, you also get to wear a yukata and a geta.
Most budget travelers might find the idea of staying in a Ryokan kind of expensive, but the good news is, there’s a budget alternative. Minshukus are a cheaper version of Ryokans designed to cater to travelers who can’t afford to stay in a Ryokan.
Suck up some luck at Cat Island
Okay, so canines aren’t your thing. How about felines? In northern Japan, you can visit Tashirojima, an island so flooded with cats that they actually outnumber the human residents two to one. But far from what you might expect of a herd of wild cats, these kitties are very well cared for. The people who live here believe they bring good luck and so see to the care and provision for the cats, which is what led to the population boom.
Visit a suicide forest
Warning, this one is not for the faint-heartead. Every unique list needs a grim mention, and this is it. Japan is still learning to take proper respect for suicide victims in its care, and Aokigahara is an infamously creepy final destination for many a stressed office worker.
The estimation of deaths here is over 500, though that number may fluctuate. It’s an interesting place to visit, but very creepy and unsettling. Be warned, the possibility is there to discover something very grim if you venture inside, though your chances of that are small due to the size of the place.
Take a bath at hot springs with snow monkeys
Combine your love of hot springs, snowy mountains, and monkeys into one. Soak in these deliciously warm hot springs while watching a fuzzy family of monkeys doing the same thing you’re doing just meters away from where you sit.
See a plaque in the city that witnessed one of the two atomic bomb explosions in human history
For the people of Japan, the memory still lingers of the day when the atomic bombs were dropped on it. Hiroshima’s Ground Zero is home to a plaque honoring those who perished, but the chilling factor comes into play when you realize that right, where it stands, is where the bomb landed. This is one of several locations where respectful history buffs can go and learn about that tragic day so the memory can carry onward into the future.
Cast in a movie at Ghibli Museum
Studio Ghibli is known in the world over (and possibly beyond this world, their movies are that good) for their amazing films and artwork. Their director, the legendary Hayao Miyazaki designed this museum specifically to take viewers through the artistic process, making them feel like they’re right in the middle of the storyboard. You can even watch a short film that can only be seen every month at this museum.
Visit a Parasite Museum
Caution: eat before you go. Located in Meguro, Tokyo, if you’ve got an appetite for weirdness, look no further than a tiny museum with bounds of information on some pretty disgusting little critters, including the world’s longest tapeworm, which is nearly nine meters long. Yikes. Maybe skip having noodles for lunch that day.
Partake in Sumo Wrestling
You’ve all seen one before, one of those enormous sportsmen who wrestle with bodies bigger than anything you thought physically capable of sporting activity. It’s a very old sport that finds its roots as a ritualistic spectacle meant to please the gods and now serves as a fun spectator sport, and one that Japan is very proud of.
Hike Mt. Fuji
Few mountains boast such a claim to fame as Mt. Fuji, a soaring, elegant peak that’s inspired artists for centuries. It’s Japan’s most sacred mountain and is a popular hiking destination at certain times of the year, so definitely check it out if you can.
Eat noodles through a bamboo pipe
Somen are white thin wheat noodles made of wheat flour that are usually served with dipping sauce and are a popular summer delicacy in Japan. However, some restaurants took it a step further. There are numerous restaurants that serve somen noodles via water flow where the noodles slide down a bamboo pipe and you have to pick it up with chopsticks in order to eat it. It’s a different and unusual way to eat your noodles and certainly one of the most interesting “only in Japan moments” you can experience in the land of the rising sun.
Taste extravagant fruits
Fruits in Japan hold a special spot not only at farmer markets but in society as well. Most locals give fruits as a kind gesture or as welcoming gifts. So if you ever happen to visit a Japanese family, getting them a basket of fresh fruits is always a great option. Japan has some unique fruits that you won’t find anywhere else, like oddly shaped watermelons, white strawberries, plum blossoms, akebia, kabosu, sudachi, etc.
Try out Japan’s bizarre Kit Kat flavors
Kit Kat is arguably the most popular candy brand in Japan. There are several different reasons for this. In Japanese, Kit Kat sounds like “Kitto Katsu” which means good luck, but the main reason for Kit Kat’s popularity are the 200+ flavors that will sound straight up bizarre for most people who come from outside of Japan. Kit Kat arrived in Japan in 1973 and since, it introduced a myriad of unusual flavors that are available only in Japan. Some of them are wasabi, baked potato, green tea, ginger ale (yes, ginger), sake, green bean (yes, seriously), etc.
Try wasabi snacks
When talking about snacks in Japan, we cannot complete this list without mentioning wasabi snacks. Wasabi is a type of Japanese horseradish that’s used as a side sauce in many sushi restaurants. It’s extremely popular for its spicy roots and for being one of the most expensive crops in the world. However, many people are unaware that wasabi also comes in forms of candies, crackers, Pringles, sodas, noodles, candy canes, etc.
Eat from a Yatai
Photo by Nightingale CC by SA 3.0
If you ever saw Japanese anime, chances are that you have seen one of these mobile food carts. The idea of yatai in Japan (Portable food stall) dates back to the 1600s and it became extremely popular during the country’s rough years following the defeat in World War II. The standard appearance of Yatais changed a lot in the past few decades, but the general motive remains the same; to provide affordable yet excellent food on the go, such as ramen, yakisoba, okonomiyaki, oden, yakitori skewers, takoyaki, etc. while keeping Japan on the top of most food tourists‘ bucket list
See some weird Japanese vending machines
On average, Japan has one vending machine for every 28 people, making this country the world leader in the number of vending machines. Some of these vending machines contain the standard products that you find in an average vending machine in different parts of the world. Japan also has many useful vending machines that are also a rarity, such as vending machines for fruits, umbrellas, milk, popcorn, Pokemon toys, ramen, etc. However, there are also some bizarre vending machines that you can find only in Japan. Some of these include used panties, neckties, alive puppies, a girl’s number, horned beetles, sex toys, etc.
See a Kabuki dance
This dance derives from the Japanese word “Kabuku”, meaning “bizarre”. The roots of Kabuki date back to the 17th century. It’s one of the oldest Japanese drama dances, a classic theatrical art that dramatizes the conflicts of human emotions in ordinary life, and one that influenced Japan’s culture for years. It’s no wonder that the Kabuki dance is a part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage
Visit the museum devoted to the world’s most loyal dog
Photo by 江戸村のとくぞう CC by SA 4.0
Did you ever hear the story about a loyal dog named Hachi? Hachiko was a Japanese Akita pup who was born on Nov 10, 1923, at a farm near the city of Odate. In 1924, Hachi was introduced to a professor named Hidesaburo Ueno. Soon, they became inseparable and Hachi would meet Ueno at the Shibuya station every day after his work. Unfortunately, on May 21, 1925, Ueno died but this was not the end of their friendship. At least not for Hachiko. From this day until Hachiko’s death on March 8th, 1935, Hachiko always waited for Ueno at the Shibuya station. Every day for 10 years! Luckily, locals acknowledged this unprecedented loyalty and today, you can see a lot of statues of Hachiko around the city and even a small museum dedicated to the loyal pup in Odate.
If you want to visit Odate and a few other destinations in Japan that aren’t so touristy, renting a car would be a great option. Use this special offer to get up to 20% off on all car rentals in Japan.
Attend an authentic Japanese tea ceremony
Tea ceremony in Japan is also known as Matcha and it seems a lot like tea parties of little girls, except that it is more greener and people actually pay to take part in it. Tea was brought to Japan in the 9th century when Japanese monks were sent to China to learn about the country’s culture. One of the most eye-catching items the monks brought back with them was tea and it didn’t take a lot of time for it to become an absolute hit in Japan. Today, tea ceremony in Japan is so much more than just preparing cups of tea and serving it. Tea gives the host a chance to escape from the fast-pace life and embrace the tranquility.
Learn Japanese calligraphy
Japanese calligraphy, also known as “Shodo”, is an art of creating letters and symbols using an ink brush. This unique skill has been passed down from one generation to the other, with some rigorous training, back in the days it used to be a means of communication. Today, when technology is taking over most aspects of our life, this rare skill is slowly getting forgotten. However, if want to try to learn Japanese calligraphy, you can always book appointments with different workshops around the country. It’s a win-win scenario; you get to learn a unique skill while supporting an old, traditional craft that’s slowly fading away in history.
Go kimono fitting
When talking about things you can do only in Japan, we just have to mention trying out a kimono. There are many tours where you have the opportunity to try kimonos and learn how to wear it. During the process, you have the liberty to pick your own kimono, obi (long colorful strips, usually use to tie around the waist), and accessories. This is a great way to learn about and to indulge in the unique culture of Japan.
Visit a town with a no-trash policy
The breathtaking views and the laidback atmosphere aren’t the only reasons why the city of Kamikatsu is so popular. Kamekatsu is the world’s first city to adopt a no-trash policy. The city has a population of about 1,500 people and each one of them are very rigorous when it comes to waste. Literally nothing gets dumped in Kamekatsu and everything is recycled. The people of Kamekatsu are so devoted to keeping their city clean that they opened an academy that helps people make the recycling process as easy as possible.
Japan is so loaded with unique activities that it’s possible you’ll pass out trying to do them all. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Japan isn’t going anywhere and you can always come back again to the land of the rising sun.
Helpful resources for visiting Japan
Get the cheapest flights to Japan with this Air France special offer and save up to 25% on all flights to Japan.
Still don’t have travel insurance for your trop to Japan? I always choose and recommend World Nomads.
Looking for some budget-friendly tours in Japan? I warmly recommend Intrepid. Their tours are a great choice if you want to learn more about Japanese culture and visit places not a lot of tourists visit.
Want to rent a car in Japan? Use this special deal to save 15% on all car rentals in town.
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Which one of these only in Japan experiences was your favorite? Which one would you like to try first? Let us know in the comments!
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