Apart from temples, castles, palaces, museums, and garden viewing for history buffs, Japan has a great selection of other things to do, including outdoor adventures and sporting events. The top of any spring trip to Japan should include cherry blossom (sakura) viewing, which is a time of to welcome the warm weather back with a picnic in the park, a visit to the temples lined with spectacular cherry tree avenues, and a trip across the country to famous viewing sites. Cherry blossom tours can be booked through Japan Deluxe Tour and many other operators both on land or by boat.
If you’re visiting Tokyo in January, May, or September, you’re in for a uniquely Japanese treat as the three key Sumo tournaments take place during these months at the National Sumo Hall, Ryogoku Kokugikan. While you may have no idea what’s going on, watching one of these fascinating matches is a great way to immerse yourself in tradition. Tickets for Tokyo tournaments can be obtained through the Ryogoku Kokugikan Box Office, among other ticket brokers.
Another not to miss Tokyo attraction is the Tsukiji Fish Market at 5:00 a.m. when the tuna auctions begin. If you’re not an early riser, head there once you wake for the freshest seafood sushi you’ve ever tasted literally straight from the source. Guided tours of the market are a great way to experience its 1,000-plus food establishments. Tokyo City Tour offers insight into the fish auctions, time to browse the stalls and a tasty breakfast.
For vibrant nightlife in Japan before you leave the capital, the Roppongi district is the place to see and be seen. Exciting, slightly seedy, and packed with clubs, bars, music venues, and karaoke joints, this is where it all happens. There’s no dress code, even in the hostess bars (strip clubs), but you will need an ID or passport at most places.
Skiing at the world-class Japanese Alps tops most outdoor activity lists and can be done at the northernmost island, Hokkaido, or around Nagano in north-central Honshu. Hokkaido snows over through winter, and also has ice climbing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing, with the added bonus of hot-springs onsen (traditional baths), not far away and perfect for soaking after the day’s aches and pains. Communal mineral-water onsen are found all over Japan and are often located in lovely old buildings or ryokan with superb views of the unspoiled landscapes. ESI Tours offers combined ski and onsen packages in Hokkaido.
The little town of Kamaochi is the gateway to the premier hiking trails in Japan’s Northern Alps. Whether you want an easy, one-day route or a challenging week-long trek, the trails cross virgin forests and offer glorious mountain views for an unforgettable experience. For walkers, the ultimate challenge is Old Tokkaido, the ancient road linking Kyoto with Tokyo, formerly called Edo. Many stretches can still be traversed, and you’ll be following in the footsteps of ancient samurai warriors and great feudal lords. Traditional samurai rest houses and military checkpoints dot the road, a few of which have been converted into inns serving modern-day travelers. You can tour the route independently or join a guided tour with an operator such as Inside Japan.
The traditional Japanese theater of Kabuki and Noh are still as popular today as they were in yesteryear and a trip to Japan wouldn’t be complete without seeing at least one production. Kabuki is the more dramatic of the two, combining classical storylines with modern innovations. Famous Kabuki actors are likely to also star in roles in popular Japanese TV and movies. Noh stands in complete contrast and is completely traditional, with its present form dating back to the Muromachi period (1336–1573). Mythical tales of gods, demons, ghosts, and humans are the lifeblood of Noh. Tokyo’s National Theater is a great place to catch a Kabuki performance, while Noh can be seen at Nagoya Noh Theatre.
Golf fanatics are in heaven in Japan, with over 2,000 golf courses scattered across the country, as well as driving ranges in most large towns and cities. Many of the holes are prestigious and challenging, and a good number are set in national parks with glorious views. Japan Golf Tours and other vacation providers offer a great range of tours that focus on Japan’s best private courses.
Japan’s coastlines, especially its Pacific beaches, boast surfing spots with good wave breaks, particularly from Hokkaido south to Honshu. Okinawa is the year-round hub for water sports, offering everything from scuba diving and snorkeling to windsurfing, jet-skiing and the like. The island and its archipelago of tiny subtropical islets are perfect for a beachside break, with operators such as Reef Encounters offering an unforgettable diving experience.
For adventure fiends, the mountainous landscape around Minakami offers whitewater rafting, canyoning, bungee jumping and mountain biking, as well as winter sports and mountaineering on nearby Mount Tanigawa. Among the best adventures in Japan are the rafting tours provided by Canyons Japan that take thrill-seekers down the whitewater of the Tone River in spring.