July 25, 2024

Every country can make a case for being unique, but few feel more singular than Japan. While other countries embraced international trade, Japan shut itself away until the mid-19th century and evolved to become something genuinely exceptional. I had already travelled widely before I first visited in 2011, but the country offered sites and experiences I’d never found anywhere else — which is why I keep returning. From the impossible vastness of Tokyo, to delicate ornamental gardens on remote islands, Japan always finds ways to surprise me on every scale. In the intervening years, the problem has never been finding things to do, but the time to do them. Here are some of the best things to do in Japan.

Main photo: Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan (Alamy)

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If you only have . . .

One week The Golden Route from Tokyo to Kyoto is called that for a reason. It’s perfectly set up for tourists, achievable by bullet train and filled with cultural highlights — there is no better introduction to Japan

Two weeks This is really the minimum amount of time you should consider for a trip to Japan. Extend the Golden route to the cities of Kobe, Hiroshima and then Fukuoka to absorb more of the nation’s varied history

Three weeks For a deeper dive into Japanese culture, consider extending your trip to the island of Shikoku, which may not have a bullet train, but does have some of Japan’s finest galleries, mountain hikes and local food markets

A tight budget Japan can be infamously expensive if you don’t take proper care of your budget. Get a Japan Rail Pass ahead of travelling, consider capsule hotels in major cities, and get to know and love the art of dining from convenience stores

1. See the cherry blossom

Benten Temple and Ueno Park, JapanBenten Temple and Ueno Park, Japan
Benten Temple and Ueno Park (Alamy)

Sitting under a cherry tree, watching milky pink petals flutter around you — this is bucket-list Japan at its most enchanting. Timing can be tricky — the blossom lasts just a fortnight — but get it right and you’ll join legions of locals gathering festival-style to picnic the day away with bento boxes. Find the best party atmosphere in Tokyo’s 1,000-tree Ueno Park. Can’t do spring? Autumn’s blast of maple colour can be just as breathtaking — and the season is longer.

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This day tour takes you to Tokyo’s best cherry blossom spots

In springtime, Wendy Wu’s 17-day Best of Japan tour takes you to some of the country’s top blossom-viewing spots, from Tokyo’s green spaces to Himeji Castle

2. Climb Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, JapanMount Fuji, Japan
Mount Fuji (Getty Images)

The arrestingly perfect cone of Japan’s tallest mountain and unofficial symbol is a wonderful sight to behold. But there’s reason for the Japanese saying, “A wise man climbs Mount Fuji once; a fool climbs it a second time” — you’ll need to be reasonably fit to tackle the six-hour walk for a start (annoyingly, you’ll see plenty of Japanese octogenarians steaming past you). It can be crowded; the 3,776m (12,388ft) elevation means altitude sickness is a risk; and you’re not guaranteed a view of more than clouds. That said, when it works, Fuji-san rewards hikers with a once-in-a-lifetime sunrise from the summit, above the clouds and hills and lakes sparkling in the first light. Good news: if all you want is a glimpse, on clear days (usually in winter) you can see Fuji-san from some of Tokyo’s skyscrapers, or more reliably, through the window of the Shinkansen bullet train en route to Osaka or Kyoto (about 45 minutes into the journey).

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This guided one-day trek up Mount Fuji is a bucket-list item ticked off

3. Join a tea ceremony

A tea ceremony in KyotoA tea ceremony in Kyoto
A tea ceremony in Kyoto (Alamy)

There’s no activity in Japan more head-clearing than a tea ceremony. The tatami-mat room will be silent but for the trickling of hot water from kettle to ladle to tea bowl. Wait for the kimono-clad host to show you where to sit or kneel (perching on the tea table is a mega faux pas). She’ll teach you the ancient “way of tea”, reverently serving you two types of apple-green matcha, plus delicate wagashi sweets. Tradition-rich Kyoto is the place to partake, and several tea houses lay on a 45-minute ceremony. Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo in Shinjuki offers a half-hour experience in a tatami-matted tea room, led by a tea master. Or go slower yet with a spa day; get a massage among the clouds in the skyscraping Aman hotel.

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Experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto, and learn how to make matcha

The 12-day Japan Real Food Adventure from Intrepid Travel includes a private tea ceremony in Kyoto

4. Slip into a kimono

Women wear rental kimono in Kyoto, JapanWomen wear rental kimono in Kyoto, Japan
Rent a kimono in Kyoto (Alamy)

The gowns may be gorgeous, but a new silk one can be costly in many ways; it’ll bust your baggage allowance; and you’ll never wear it at home — so instead, hire one. Kimono rentals are big business. In Kyoto, Okamoto has several branches, including one by Kiyomizu temple; a small sum will get you help putting it on, and hours of wandering and snapping time.

Make it happen

Immerse yourself in Japanese culture by shuffling around Kyoto in a kimono or yukata

5. Let loose at a karaoke bar

B&V Corp karaoke bar in Tokyo, JapanB&V Corp karaoke bar in Tokyo, Japan
A karaoke bar in Tokyo (Getty Images)

Love karaoke? Japan’s your place. It’s a national obsession — office workers practise during their lunch hours. Think you hate karaoke? That’s because you’ve never tried it in Japan. For one thing, there’s no performing in front of strangers: almost all singing takes place in private booths, charged per person in 30-minute chunks. Second: it’s ludicrously cheap — you can pay as little as 50p per session during the day (rising to only a few quid at night). Finally, it’s not only singing — there are often free ice-cream bars, wi-fi and wide-ranging menus.

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Play the arcades, visit the dinky bars of Golden Gai and end the night in a karaoke bar on this night tour of Shinjuku

Japan: Tokyo Nights & Kyoto Temples from G Adventures gives you a taste of nightlife in Tokyo and Kyoto over five nights, including a karaoke session

6. Immerse yourself in Tokyo’s weirdness

Women wear cosplay costumes in Harajuku, TokyoWomen wear cosplay costumes in Harajuku, Tokyo
Cosplay costumes in Harajuku, Tokyo (Getty Images)

Why are all those girls dressed as Alice in Wonderland? What’s with all the cats? Nowhere combines baffling predilections with cutesy charm quite like Japan. Start your journey down the rabbit hole in Harajuku, Tokyo’s pop culture epicentre, filled with cosplay (costume play) types dressed as heroes, villains and maids. They’re out in full force at the weekend. You’ve heard of cat cafés, right? Now the craze has spread so you can have a cuppa with rabbits, owls . . . even snakes. Don’t be fooled into thinking that’s all of the quirkiness you’ll find when you visit Tokyo — expect rainbow-haired drummer girls on the streets and kitsch restaurants.

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This half-day tour explores the Kawaii culture of Harajuku

On the eight-day Exodus Highlights of Japan tour, you can explore the eclectic fashions of Takeshita Street in Harajuku

7. Sample sushi with the locals

Freshly-made sushi, JapanFreshly-made sushi, Japan
Freshly made sushi (Getty Images)

If you’re a fan of chains such as YO! Sushi and Itsu, prepare to have your office lunch ruined for good — even the most workaday sushi in Japan will beat the efforts of the UK brands. It’s mainly in the rice — plump, loose grains with just enough bite. But there’s also the fish. One fifth of the world’s fish consumption is down to the Japanese; they know their stuff and expect the best, so it’s hard not to find a tasty bite. Sushi isn’t expensive, either. Kaitens are the cheapest of all, but elsewhere a ten-piece set and endless green tea might cost a tenner — more than worth it for Japanese food at its best.

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Viator has a wide selection of day tours exploring traditional Japanese food, wherever in the country you are

The 12-day Japan Food Adventure trip from Explore! kicks off with a sushi lunch at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Outer Market

8. Poach gently in an onsen

Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama, JapanDogo Onsen in Matsuyama, Japan
Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama, Japan (Alamy)

The ahhh-factor of onsen (hot springs) is so powerful that you’ll forget the off-putting aspects — the brazen group nakedness, the long list of rules — as soon as you hit the water. But it helps to know the drill: women and men are separated and you must go nude. The vast majority of onsens in Japan are indoor baths, and a brilliant snapshot of daily life where elderly regulars come to gossip. Before getting into the pool (which can be anywhere between warm and scorching, so proceed with caution), always rinse your body thoroughly at the taps — then slip into the water and relax.

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Hakone, close to Mount Fuji, is one of Japan’s best hot-spring towns — this day tour will take you there

SpiceRoads Cycling takes you from hot spring to hot spring in the saddle on the six-day Kyushu Onsen to Onsen trip

9. Glimpse geisha culture

Geishas in Gion, Kyoto, JapanGeishas in Gion, Kyoto, Japan
Geishas in Gion, Kyoto (Alamy)

Kyoto has more than 250 maiko and geiko (junior and senior geishas), more than any other city — and they are treated like cultural celebrities. You can often see them in the Gion or Shinbashi Dori districts in the early evening, as they leave their lodgings, heading to the chaya (tea houses) for the night’s appointments: serving saké to rich businessmen, playing classical instruments and even starting up drinking games.

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Enjoy a multi-course kaiseki dinner with a geisha performance in Tokyo

Luxury Gold’s Majestic Japan trip takes in all the highlights over 11 days, including a maiko evening in Gion

10. Steam with snow monkeys

A snow monkey in Nagano, Japan A snow monkey in Nagano, Japan
A snow monkey in Nagano (Alamy)

Those cute macaques blissing out in hot springs are easier to spot than you’d think. They’re in Jigokudani Park, a 40-minute bus ride (plus a half-hour walk) from Nagano, two hours from Tokyo (you’ll see more sightings during December to March). You can’t bathe here, but they might join you in the outdoor baths at Korakukan, the inn nearby.

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A local is your guide on this day trip to Nagano’s Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

The Snow Monkey Explorer trip from On the Go Tours includes a trip to Jigokudani while it’s at its winter best

11. Admire the island art

One of Yayoi Kusama's sculptures in Naoshima One of Yayoi Kusama's sculptures in Naoshima
One of Yayoi Kusama’s sculptures in Naoshima (Alamy)

A Yayoi Kusama polka dot pumpkin on the beach; a bathhouse where you can soak in a Shinro Ohtake installation; a Tadao Ando structure housing Monets and Warhols. You’ll find them on Naoshima, Inujima and Teshima islands. Take the ferry from Uno for a day, or opt to stay overnight. Another great option is the Ghibli — a museum that showcases the work of one of Japan’s best animation studios.

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A day trip to Naoshima is included on Intrepid Travel’s Southern Japan Experience trip, where you can explore the installations and galleries by bike or bus

12. Find your Zen in a temple

A garden at Tenryu-ji Zen Temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto, JapanA garden at Tenryu-ji Zen Temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
A garden at Tenryu-ji Zen temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto (Alamy)

Temples and shrines are a big part of Japanese culture and your visiting experience will vary depending on the Buddhist sect behind it. Some are more commercial than you’d expect — the approach to Tokyo’s busy Senso-ji is via an avenue of stalls selling chopsticks, snacks and waving cats; at Miyajima’s beautiful hillside Daisho-in, your money might go on prayer beads or lucky kokeshi dolls. For a glimpse of the truly serene, though, it has to be Kyoto’s Zen temples. Many don’t allow photos of the interiors, so stick to garden shots: seas of moss; painstakingly raked pebbles; gentle water features; and “borrowed scenery”, where the garden frames hills and trees beyond.

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Explore Kyoto’s Zen temples on this day trip by bike

On the Sea of Japan, Temples & Mountains tour from Crooked Compass, you can explore the temples of Kyoto as well as a temple at Eihei-ji, a Zen monastery known as the Temple of Eternal Peace

13. Soak up the scenery, the slow way

The wooden buildings of Tsumago, JapanThe wooden buildings of Tsumago, Japan
The wooden buildings of Tsumago (Alamy)

Japan has numerous historic hikes and walks, where you can follow in the footsteps of itinerant priests, warriors and merchants: in Nagano’s central mountains, two-and-a-half hours west of Tokyo, the Nakasendo was a 17th-century highway that’s now an easygoing foot trail. A five-mile stretch connects two mountain outposts, the towns of Tsumago and Magome, famous for their well-preserved, balconied wooden buildings and mountain vistas. Prefer something meatier? You can spend hours or days on the Kumano Kodo, a Unesco-listed pilgrimage trail across the Kii Peninsula, three hours south of Kyoto, meandering through wooded groves via shrines and hot springs.

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The week-long Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Trail tour from The Natural Adventure takes you along the Nakahechi route, visiting the Hongu and Nachi grand shrines

14. Meditate in a bamboo forest

A bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto, JapanA bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
The bamboo grove in Arashiyama, Kyoto (Getty Images)

Peeping up around the edges of Kyoto is the Sagano Bamboo Forest, where towering, skinny trunks rustle, creak and sway to create a meditative natural noise said to bring auditory calm. Don’t get distracted by taking pictures — it’s hard to do justice to the beauty of the forest and you’ll get more from relaxing as you wander through it.

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Explore the Arashiyama bamboo grove with a private tour guide — who can take you to the spots tourists usually miss

Sagano’s bamboo grove is just one of the beautiful spots included over 13 days on Riviera Travel’s Japan Garden Discovery trip

15. Watch a sumo match

Sumo wrestlers in Tokyo, JapanSumo wrestlers in Tokyo, Japan
Sumo wrestlers in Tokyo (Alamy)

Sumo matches are all about the theatre. You don’t need to understand it to enjoy the scene; a tournament day features dozens of sumo wrestlers, starting with junior rishiki in the early morning (8am-ish) and ending with the big guns, around 6pm. A few hours is enough, so avoid planning an entire day trip and instead turn up about 3pm for the top tiers. At Tokyo’s Kokugikan stadium, go at 2pm and grab a sumo-style lunch first — chunky chankonabe (hot pot) is served everywhere nearby. Don’t splurge on front-row tickets. Arenas are relatively intimate (just 13,000 seats in Tokyo), so even the cheap seats have good views.

Make it happen

Let a sumo expert introduce you to the custom of sumo wrestling at a tournament

On the Go Tours’ Japan Uncovered itinerary includes meeting sumo wrestlers in Tokyo, seeing them train and sharing lunch with them

16. Sleep in a real ryokan

A ryokan in Koyasan, JapanA ryokan in Koyasan, Japan
A ryokan in Koyasan (Getty Images)

From the clothes you wear, to the bed that you lie on, you’ll live differently — calmly, uncomplicatedly — in a ryokan. Few overnight stays tell you as much about a country’s character as a spell in one of these traditional Japanese guesthouses, where presentation, seamless service, simplicity and cleanliness are what counts. Rooms are soothingly bare: tatami mats on the floor, a low table for tea, a carefully decorated alcove and a cupboard for daytime storage of the (surprisingly comfortable) futon mattress. You don’t have to ditch your own clothes, but there’s something beguilingly minimal about the cotton yukata robes provided — the Japanese equivalent of lounge wear. It’s expected that you’ll wear these around the hotel, even in lounges and dining areas.

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Book a stay in a ryokan through Expedia

You can spend every night of The Natural Adventure’s Shikoku Pilgrim Trail trip at a shukubo (temple stay) or ryokan

17. Embrace your inner geek

Akihabara, Tokyo, JapanAkihabara, Tokyo, Japan
Akihabara, Tokyo (Alamy)

Buzzing, whirring, neon light-blinking Akihabara is the home of Tokyo’s geek culture: gadgets, computer games, manga, anime and Tsukumo Robot Kingdom (where you can buy or build your own robot). It’s not for bargain hunters, but if you’re a collector — of anything from model trains to retro video games — you’ll love the hole-in-the-wall shops. Or just soak up the nerdy excess.

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Explore Akihabara by go-kart on this thrilling day tour

On the four-day Tokyo Welcome Package tour from Bamba Travel, you can explore the “electric town” of Akihabara with a local guide

18. Ride rollercoasters in eccentric theme parks

A giant swing at Fuji-Q, Fuji, JapanA giant swing at Fuji-Q, Fuji, Japan
A giant swing at Fuji-Q (Alamy)

It’ll come as no surprise that Japan throws up some of the world’s most eccentric parks. If you’re looking for a stunning view while you’re tipped upside down on a stomach-churning track, try Fuji-Q Highland — a park that sits in the shadows of Mount Fuji. Toei Kyoto Studio Park is based on the sets of Kurosawa films, where period houses line the streets and actors spar in sword fights.

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Intrepid Travel’s 12-day Japan Family Holiday trip includes a day in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district, with time to visit the Toei Kyoto Studio Park

19. Swot up on saké

Learning about sake is one of the best things to do in JapanLearning about sake is one of the best things to do in Japan
Saké barrels at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo (Getty Images)

The first thing to know about saké is that there isn’t a single alcoholic beverage called saké. Instead, Japan’s national drink, made from fermented rice, has numerous grades and iterations: from a basic table wine via various special-designation varieties through to sweet or liqueur-like riffs. A canny place to discover more is Kobe, courtesy of its Nada-based breweries and Hakutsuru Brewery Museum. In Tokyo, sommeliers lead tasting tours to neighbourhood bars and introduce expert food pairings.

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Try this saké tasting session with a specialist sommelier in Tokyo

The 11-day Japan’s Culinary Heritage tour from Oku Japan includes a visit to Kyoto’s Gekkeikan Okura Saké Museum, with a saké tasting, and time to explore Kobe

20. Pay your respects in Hiroshima

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, JapanThe Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Japan
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Getty Images)

A sunny morning, birds tweeting, trams trundling. The Ota river flows serenely south, and on its banks, by the blasted remains of the Genbaku Dome, tears flow, too. Whether you know a lot or a little about the atomic bomb that exploded above Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park is a powerfully moving place. From the Dome, go straight to the museum — take in videos of survivors describing the hellish scenes; the tattered clothes; a child’s charred tricycle. For quiet contemplation, wander around the leafy park.

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On Riviera Travel’s 16-day Grand Tour of Japan, you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate Hiroshima’s history in the Peace Memorial Park, and to enjoy the city’s many scenic spots and hospitality

21. Whizz cross-country on a bullet train

A shinkansen bullet train in Sendai, JapanA shinkansen bullet train in Sendai, Japan
A shinkansen bullet train in Sendai (Getty Images)

You might love the sushi and the shopping, but it’s the Shinkansen bullet train and its ever-expanding network that you’ll miss when you get back home. The sleek trains make Japan easy to navigate and are a joy to ride: clean, punctual, user-friendly and good value, with courteous staff and ace views (going from Tokyo to Kyoto, sit on the right to see Fuji).

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Wendy Wu’s 21-day Japan By Rail trip takes you from Kyushu to Hokkaido by bullet train

22. Sip cocktails in Tokyo

A bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo, JapanA bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
A bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo (Getty Images)

Ginza is a hub for cocktail bars, where crafted creations can cost £15 or more. With only a handful of seats, no-reservations Bar High Five and Star Bar are popular choices — or try the historic Oak bar in Tokyo Station Hotel, where the bartender has been making Manhattans for more than 50 years.

Make it happen

Explore the back-alley bars of Tokyo’s Shinjuku with a local guide. Fun comes as standard

23. Eat in Michelin-starred ramen bars

Ramen in Tokyo, JapanRamen in Tokyo, Japan
Ramen in Tokyo (Alamy)

Indulgent doesn’t have to mean expensive. Tokyo has Michelin-starred ramen bars, where bowls cost just £10. The best is Tsuta, so get there by 8am to bag a seat for later that day.

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GetYourGuide’s tasting tour in Tokyo involves six bowls of ramen — save room!

24. Join the parades at Aomori Nebuta Festival

Aomori Nebuta Festival, JapanAomori Nebuta Festival, Japan
Aomori Nebuta Festival (Alamy)

In Japanese, the world nebuta translates rather prosaically to “lantern” — an etymological crime given the grandeur of these giant illuminated paper floats. Up to 5m tall and painted with scenes of battling warriors, they’re on the centrepiece of the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, held every year in the city of Aomori, a train ride north of Tokyo. No one’s certain of the festival’s origin, but that doesn’t stop half the city (and a fair few tourists) getting kitted out in jazzy haneto kimonos and neon-bright hats to dance along the procession route. The jingling bells hanging from the costumes are intended to lure onlookers into the fold, and if you find one discarded in the ground, pick it up — it’s said to bring good luck. The festival is at the start of August.

Make it happen

If you can’t visit during the festival then Wendy Wu’s 14-day Journey Through Japan is a good option, as it stops off at Aomori’s Nebuta Warasse museum so you can still admire the huge lanterns

25. Marvel at Hokkaido’s rainbow meadows

 The colourful meadows at Shikisai-no-oka, Hokkaido The colourful meadows at Shikisai-no-oka, Hokkaido
The meadows of Shikisai-no-oka, Hokkaido (Getty Images)

Only four hours by bullet train from Tokyo, via the longest underwater tunnel in the world, the island of Hokkaido impresses with its walking trails, brilliant Blue Pond and sculpture-producing Sapporo Snow Festival. Most enchanting, however, might be Furano, an area of lavender fields and, in the case of Shikisai-no-oka, undulating meadows arranged in wide stripes of different-coloured flowers. To make photos even better, snow-capped mountains provide a dramatic, distant backdrop.

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Oku Japan’s nine-day Wild Lands of Eastern Hokkaido explores the island’s wild landscapes and saves plenty of time to taste superb seafood

26. Race Bowser and Donkey Kong

Visiting Super Nintendo World is one of the best things to do in JapanVisiting Super Nintendo World is one of the best things to do in Japan
Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan (Getty Images)

Found within Osaka’s Universal Studios theme park, Super Nintendo World features VR rollercoaster rides and the chance to meet famous console characters such as Toad and Yoshi. Most alluring, however, might be an opportunity to race Mario Kart courses in real life — but, as ever, watch out for those pesky green shells. Nintendo-themed shops and restaurants also await. Make sure everyone has a Power-Up band so that they can play all games across the park and complete mini-quests in order to earn stamps.

Make it happen

Explore the worlds of Mario and Pokemon with a day trip to Osaka’s Universal Studios

27. Experience the madness of a maid café

A maid cafe in Tokyo's Akihabara district, JapanA maid cafe in Tokyo's Akihabara district, Japan
A maid café in Tokyo’s Akihabara district (Alamy)

Nothing can prepare you for the madness of a maid café. While they serve food and drinks, they can’t be classed as restaurants, bars or theatre. Waitresses are dressed like manga characters and customers are embarrassed, teased or ignored depending on the maid’s mood — you can order a drink which may be sung to, play Jenga against a maid dressed as a cat or be forced to don a pair of cat ears. What you can’t do is know what experience to expect . . .

Make it happen

Visit a maid café and an arcade on this wacky tour of Akihabara, Tokyo’s centre of anime and video games

One Life Adventures’ Japan Essentials nine-day tour includes time in Tokyo’s Akihabara, with the option of visiting a maid café

28. Hit the shops in Tokyo

Boutiques in Daikanyama, Tokyo, JapanBoutiques in Daikanyama, Tokyo, Japan
Boutiques in Daikanyama, Tokyo (Alamy)

Hit Ginza for big-name fashion, plus grand department stores such as Mitsukoshi and Isetan. Stop to ogle the tiled-roof traditional kabuki theatre, Kabukiza, then hop on the metro west to Roppongi Hills, a shiny complex packed with global favourites (you can shop tax-free). For Japanese-brand stores in a village setting, head to Daikanyama. Pampered pooches get shampoos at Green Dog; vintage Polaroid cameras are arranged like artworks at Daikanyama Kitamura Camera Shop; and blingy fountain pens line the wall at Tsutaya Books. More glam stores and restaurants are found in Aoyama, to the northeast, where Ferraris squeeze down lanes past flower and kimono shops.

roppongihills.com

29. Go island hopping

A water buffalo cart on Taketomi Island, JapanA water buffalo cart on Taketomi Island, Japan
A water buffalo cart on Taketomi Island (Alamy)

The Okinawa archipelago, a trail of tropical cookie crumbs stretching 650 miles south into the Pacific, is another world — the Japan of white sand beaches and mangrove swamps. The main island, Okinawa Honto, is a favourite holiday destination for many Japanese people. Head further south to the remote Yaeyama islands and Okinawa really shows its colours. Taketomi, a 15-minute ferry from the main Ishigaki island, is where people go to unplug. The sandy roads here see no cars, just carriages pulled by water buffalo. The weather’s balmy all year round, but avoid August and September — it’s typhoon season. Read our guide to the Japanese islands.

visitokinawajapan.com

Additional reporting by Richard Mellor and Rebecca Hallett

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Inspired to visit Japan but yet to book your trip? Here are the best packages from Expedia and BA Holidays, as well as the best tours of Japan from our trusted partners.

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