Japan Travel Recommendations

My partner and I are planning a trip to Japan at some point when it reopens. Neither of us has been there and we are looking for recommendations – where to go, places to stay, things to see. I know there are some folks on here who live in Japan and I‘m sure there are many who have traveled there. I figured I wouldn’t be the only one to benefit from a thread with everyone‘s recommendations for traveling in Japan. Looking forward to hearing everyone’s suggestions!


Do you already know which general area(s) you plan to visit?

I used to live in Japan.
My favorite region is Kansai region.

What sorts of things are you and your partner interested in doing/seeing?

@“Geoff”#p58985

We're planning on visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. We're not very far into the planning process yet so we would be open to other suggestions for places to visit as well. We're interested in good food and coffee, nature, art. I would like to visit at least a couple of arcades and maybe do a bit of shopping for both video game and non video game-related stuff.

Tokyo

Mikado arcade in Takadanobaba is my favorite arcade anywhere.

Tokyo has quite a few pleasant strolling gardens. I especially liked Kiyosumi Garden.

For food try a small chain called Toriki found in Shinagawa, not to be confused with the large similarly named chain.

This place is the one you want

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sR0mrUU9bs

If you are interested in performance art at all I'd recommend going to Kabuki-za to see some Kabuki.

Osaka
You'll generally get better food in Osaka than anywhere else in Japan.
You might want to check out this older thread
https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/492-cool-places-in-osaka
Kansai region rocks so it isn't a bad idea to expand out a bit from Osaka and check out nearby places like Kobe and Nara, they can be daytrips from Osaka.

If you‘re into nature and art, I’d recommend some time in the imperial gardens in Tokyo. I was fortunate enough to travel to Tokyo for a week back in 2019 and I found it to be a relaxing place to spend a couple of hours.

I've been three times recreationally, last time was December 2019 - not sure if much has changed since then!

There is so much tourist info online for Japan, it's insane. Not that you should, but you could plan out everything to the hour if you wanted to.
Seconding Mikado - it kicks ass.
Only attractions coming to me right now are autumn in general (depth of colour everywhere) and that I really enjoyed walking this as dusk fell
https://www.japan.travel/en/destinations/kansai/nara/the-yamanobe-road/#:~:text=Yamanobe%20Road%2C%20running%20along%20the,emperors%20and%20forgotten%20temple%20ruins.

Another day trip out of Osaka I would recommend is hopping on the train to Hiroshima, and spending the day in and around the Peace Park. If the museum is open again then go for a wander through there also. A truely harrowing and sobering experience, but one I will never forget and am glad I had.

Afterwards, wander vaguely back towards the station and stop at any of the okonomiyaki places and get yourself a proper Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.

Spending the day at Nara Deer Park was the highlight of my trip and the rail pass available to foreigners is an amazing deal.

>

@“rejj”#p59037 Afterwards, wander vaguely back towards the station and stop at any of the okonomiyaki places and get yourself a proper Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.

Yes!! Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is awesome!
Hiroshima is a bit further than Nara or Kobe, but if you do make it out that way the Itsukushima Shrine is neat.

@“mindleftbody”#p58936 I assume one important aspect about a first trip to Japan is the alienating experience (in a good way!) and I wonder how this is going to translate when the leisure travelling situation returns to normal and the country suddenly gets swarmed by frustrated tourists.

Paradoxically, I would almost advise you might want to wait a year or so before your trip, and maybe aim for an unconventional season (February? November?) to let the rush pass, unless you don’t mind so much being awkwardly surrounded by dozens of other mindleftbodies and having to pay exorbitant sums for hotel bookings trying to catch up on lost years.

I went to Japan for my first time in 2019 and I went with PacSet Tours based on a review of them on Anime News Network a while ago. It‘s more expensive than going on your own but it was VERY nice not having to worry about figuring out my own itinerary, getting plenty of good food, access to bilingual guides who can give you advice and all that. Plus I got to go to the Ghibli Museum which is near impossible to get to if you’re not with a tour group and absolutely lives up to the hype. I think my experience was as good as a first trip can be and I saw a whole lot more stuff than my friends who went on their own and never ventured out of Tokyo. A tour group is going to ensure you get to do everything you want to do with minimal headaches!

But even if you don't want to go on a group, my general tips are:
1) Go in the spring or autumn if you can! Japanese summers get hot and you'll be walking outdoors quite a lot no matter what you plan on doing. And obviously a cold winter could also make for a lousy time.
2) If you like unique tourist fun, buy a souvenir stamp book early in the trip and get stamps from different train stations and attractions! You can similarly also get goshuin from temples and shrines if you're planning on going there, but don't use the same book for your non-religious stamps unless you want to make someone angry.
3) If you like cool old stuff, definitely plan on spending a full day at Nakano Broadway in Tokyo. This was my favorite place to shop!
4) You don't need to be fluent in Japanese but if you have hiragana and katakana memorized, you'll have a much easier time of things in general.
5) Don't waste too much money trying to win prizes in arcades: you'll typically find the same prize at a reasonable price at any nearby shop that sells secondhand nerd-goods.
6) Assuming you're American: try to be as polite as possible and follow all the social norms you're aware of but know that EVEN STILL you are going to sometimes feel like a clumsy oaf who can't do anything right when interacting with people.

Wow this is all great feedback, thank you so much everyone for your thoughtful and detailed responses!

Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka is pretty good for a first trip, but I would suggest to consider maybe taking at least a few days in a smaller city/the countryside somewhere.

Japan is huge and there is no way to get to everywhere interesting in one trip. In the northern part Hokkaido is pretty cool, and Tohoku region is also very nice. Yamadera in Yamagata is one of the most beautiful temple complexes I have visited in Japan mostly due to the surrounding nature. Onsen are great, especially if you end up visiting during the winter (I went to Ginzan onsen in the winter, it literally feels like a fairy-tale place). Also, the seafood in the coastal regions of the northern parts of Japan is delicious.

On the other hand I really like Kyushuu as well, which is the southern part. There are many places of natural beauty, the Aso volcano and Takachiho gorge to name a few. Both Fukuoka and Kumamoto are pretty cool cities to visit as well, with smaller cities along the way such as Dazaifu and Yanagawa being worth a visit as well. I’ve also really enjoyed my visits to Nagasaki.

However, all of these locations would require you to travel back and forth if you are planning on Tokyo-Osaka, so it might be more efficient to find somewhere in between. Somewhere around Hakone would probably be pretty good. I also like Nagano, Matsumoto is a pretty chill city.

I currently live in Osaka, but only moved here during corona times, so haven’t done to much traveling around. However, I can definitely recommend trips to Nara and Kobe. If you want to go outside the cities, I recently went to Mount Koya which is the center of Shingon Bhuddhism and where Kukai is said to still sit meditating. It was a pretty good time. In Kyoto, there are so many temples that it almost gets overwhelming. I would say that some must-visit places are Fushimi Inari and maybe Kiyomizudera.

In japan there are a lot of half-open markets, streets with roofs if you will and I always enjoy walking around those, looking at the various food being sold etc. Like Kuromon market in Osaka (which is also close to Nipponbashi if you want to look for old game shops and the like) or around Kawaramachi in Kyoto, although they have them everywhere. In general there are a lot of places that are cool to just walk around in Japanese cities. One thing I like about Tokyo and Osaka is that despite their size they have parts where you suddenly feel like you are in a small town. In Tokyo for a particular recommendation “piss alley” in Shinjuku is pretty cool. Lots of tiny delicious restaurants (housing around 6 people at the counter), mostly specializing in kushiyaki (meat and vegetable skewers).

In general, one of my favorite things about Japan and one of the things I will miss the most if/when I move back home is the food. An izakaya is in principle a drinking place, but many of them focus a lot on food and a nice thing about most izakayas is that they tend to have a good variety of delicious sashimi, fried stuff, appetizers etc. As you probably know, seeafood in general is very good in Japan. Clamfish like mussels, scallops, and oysters are also great, both fried and raw for the latter two. In general I am a big fan of sashimi and sushi. Also the fried eel in Japan is amazing. For something cheap but great, get some tonkotsu ramen or tsukemen. Delicious thick pork broth, my favorite type of ramen.

Also, this is probably not that relevant for your trip, but I lived for over 5 years in Okinawa and would definitely recommend Okinawa as well for a trip, although maybe not for someones first trip to Japan. In case anyone is interested I could put together a list of places that are cool in Okinawa including some stuff which is slightly off the beaten tourist path.

Finally, if you want to go to some locations outside the big cities, renting a car can be a good choice (and almost required depending on where you go), which allows you a lot more freedom. Cars are useless inside Tokyo or Osaka though in my opinion.

Make sure to get real lost in Tokyo, it's fun. I first visited Japan in the late 2000s pre-smartphone era, was wild trying to figure out where anything was. I guess I recommend throwing your smartphone into the Pacific Ocean ASAP.

Also Osaka rules. Eat as many Takoyaki as you can.

some recs:

  • - arashiyama district in kyoto (if you are already going to kyoto) will give you the quintessential japanese temple experience. tiny little temples with moss growing on rocks and stuff…i love it. you could spend a whole afternoon, maybe a whole day, just walking around between the shrines and temples in arashiyama and have a great time. if it sucks now or if i got some of the info wrong it was like 10 years ago that i did this, so not my fault sorry
  • - this is my top-secret izakaya recommendation...[UONEKO](https://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1322/A132203/13156002/) in the Oyama neighborhood that is a few stops from Ikebukuro on the Tobu Tojo line. i went here nearly every friday after work with my partner for a couple years although that may be because i lived literally next door :P. incredible neighborhood feel, tables spilling out of the restaurant onto the side of the road, people yelling out orders, everyone is just chilling and having a good ol time and unwinding. nothing better than this place on a friday summer evening. order sashimi and drink beer
  • - curry spot: [MOYAN CURRY](https://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1305/A130501/13034156/) in ikebukuro. quite a walk from ikebukuro but worth it IMO and IIRC there is a super potato branch nearby that is way smaller but way less crowded than the one in akihabara. the lightly sweetened tea they serve is so good on a hot day
  • - okonomiyaki: [NANBANTEI](https://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1318/A131802/13037445/) in shimokitazawa. hang out for an afternoon in shimokita and grab din here. big nihonshu selection and good in the winter because it's upstairs in only a moderately sized room with the griddles going so nice and warm
  • - go to kamakura. if i was given the choice to live anywhere in the world and i had no kids i might choose kamakura even though the town basically closes when the sun goes down. go to fujisawa station on a nice day and take the cute little ENODEN train to kamakura and pretend you are in showa japan. walking the little paved paths that wind the hills above kamakura and finding old abandoned overgrown houses and marveling at the beautiful views is a top-tier experience at least for a certified japanophile like me
  • - meiji jingu is my favorite temple experience in tokyo and i went here a lot when i lived there. it really is remarkable for how quiet and serene it is even though it's in the middle of tokyo. it presents a good variety of experiences (garden, forest, temple) which is why i like it more than touring the imperial palace grounds which can get a little samey after an hour or so. meiji jingu is accessed from harajuku station so if you wanted to visit there you could do these on the same day
  • - just my opinion but not sure i recommend a ryokan just because it can feel like cosplaying to put on the yukata and go to the hot spring, also if you are going with a partner of the opposite sex the springs will almost certainly be separated based on sex so you might not get to be together in the spring
  • Thanks again everyone! So much great information here, all this feedback really exceeded my expectations!

    How long are you planning to be in Japan? Tokyo->Kyoto/Osaka/Nara is definitely doable but if your whole trip is say like 1 week including flying in and out of the country, then you better be prepared to be dang tired.

    You could also consider staying in Tokyo the whole time, be able to explore Tokyo at a leisurely pace, and still have access to plenty of very famous and important shrines and temples in places like Kamakura or Nikko that you can visit on a day trip while still staying in Tokyo.

    Other than that it's been a long time since I worked at JTB or did any tourist stuff myself so I don't have many specific places to recommend. Is Kappabashi in Asakusa still a quirky place?

    @“thebryanjzx90”#p59792

    As of now we’re planning on being there for ~ 3 weeks. Definitely trying to spend enough time so we don’t feel worn out/rushed.

    There are folks on here who are way more familiar with Japan than I am, but I have one tiny suggestion, since you‘re going to Osaka anyway: go see Expo Commemoration Park, and particularly Taiyō no Tō. It’s this absolutely iconic thing that shows up all sorts of IC related/adjacent media. I‘ve been twice, and it always ends up being kind of stunning. Apparently since I was last there in 2018, it’s been restored, and you can go inside and see an approximation of its Expo 70 funkiness (although I wish I had been able to see its ratty pre-restoration interior too).

    If you enjoy Okamoto Tarō's work in general, you can go see a[ museum of his work in Aoyama in Tokyo](https://taro-okamoto.or.jp/en/). It's small but quite good!

    Anyway, have a good trip!

    No idea if any of it is going on or what will be going on, but you should try and see a baseball game even if you're not a baseball fan and make sure to sit in the fan section (ouengaseki) and try and join in all that fun. You should try and find a street festival if any are happening, although I think they were all canceled last year. Go see a sumo match.