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Top 10 things to do on a Japan tour

With so many must-see attractions in Japan it can be hard to pick out the best for your holiday. Here are our ten highlights of Japan to see on a small group tour, from seasonal delights like cherry blossom colours to wildlife encounters with snow monkeys.
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1. See the cherry blossom

Cherry blossom season in Japan runs from around late-March to mid-April, with the full bloom at the beginning of April. The cherry blossom trees burst with colour, their hues complementing vibrant temples and colourfully-clad locals. Read our blog to discover 7 things you didn’t know about cherry blossom season.

An alternative to visiting in the cherry blossom season is to go in autumn when the trees are like fire, exploding with bright oranges and deep reds.

2. Feast on sushi and local Japanese food

Sushi is now available in many Western supermarkets and restaurants, but it doesn’t compare to eating freshly-made, authentic sushi in Japan. With so many different variations available in different regions, you won’t get bored of eating this delicious food. You may even get to try your hand at making it yourself on a sushi-making class.

As well as sushi you’ll also have plenty of other unique and enticing local dishes to try too – check out our 11 must-try Japanese food and drink dishes.

3. Stay in a ryokan

Experience Japanese living with a stay in a ryokan, a type of inn that features traditional furnishings such as tatami mats, futon beds and sliding doors. Many of our Japan tours feature at least one night in a ryokan, where you’ll learn about Japanese etiquette such as taking your shoes off and sitting on the floor to eat. During your stay you’ll wear a yukata, a Japanese robe, and get to sample authentic Japanese food and teas.
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4. Travel by bullet train

Experience travel Japanese style on our Japan tours. All our itineraries include journeys on the famous high-speed bullet trains, called shinkansen in Japanese. These will see you darting between destinations at speeds of up to 320 kilometres an hour, making it the fastest way to cover the distance between the must-see sights. And there’s none of the delays that are the norm in the West – punctuality is very important in the Japanese culture and the trains typically leave on time, down to the second. So make sure you’re on time!

5. Bathe in an onsen

Onsens, traditionally, are hot springs that Japanese people bathe in, usually communally (although men and women bathe at separate times or in separate pools). They can be natural hot spring pools, as Japan is very volcanically active, or pools fed by hot springs. Onsens are believed to have healing properties and the minerals are thought to be good for your health. You must wash before you enter the water and if you’ve got tattoos, check the signs as they sometimes have rules forbidding you to use the onsen.

When it comes to onsen etiquette, one rule that can be a little uncomfortable to travellers at first is that you must bathe naked. This is a very alien concept to many, but you have a 'modesty towel' for the walk to the water and once you're in your nerves will likely start to settle. Try not to let this put you off, it’s one of the best ways to experience Japanese culture and it will all be worth it when you’re relaxing in the warm water.

6. Meet snow monkeys

You don’t usually see monkeys in the snow, which is what makes Japan's snow monkeys so special. These indigenous macaques come down from the hills to bathe and play in hot springs; a joy to watch. Take a pleasant walk along a forest trail to the hot springs on our Simply Japan trip to see the monkeys or visit them as part of the itinerary on our Sapporo Snow Festival tour. On this trip you’ll even get to bathe in an onsen yourself – but don’t worry, there won’t be any monkeys in with you!

7. Cycle the Shimanami Way

A nation of islands, Japan’s Inland Sea creates a stunning landscape for a cycling holiday. On our Cycle Japan – Shimanami Kaido and the Inland Sea trip we cycle on inland scenic trails, seaside routes and through fishing towns. The itinerary includes cycling along the Shimanami Way, Japan’s most famous cycling route, which sees us cycle across a series of bridges between islands. We also visit the classic sites in Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. The cycling is graded moderate to challenging, but it will be well worth it for the majestic views over the many small islands. And as well as the famous route we ride along several other lesser-known cycle ways, giving a different view of Japan to the typical tourist.

8. Visit Hiroshima

Hiroshima is known worldwide for the atomic bombing in 1945 that destroyed the majority of the city and killed tens of thousands of people. Today you can visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which is dedicated to the memory of the victims. A symbolic landmark in the park is the A-Bomb Dome, the skeletal remains of the one of the last buildings left standing closest to where the bomb dropped. Whilst the Park is a poignant reminder of the nuclear bombing, the overwhelming message is of hope that it won’t occur again.

The city has been built back up to a thriving metropolis with many attractions to discover. Just off the coast of Hiroshima is Miyajima Island, where tame deer roam freely through the streets. On the ferry over we see the famous floating torii gate, a vibrant red gate that appears to float on the water.

9. Hike the Kumano Kodo Trail

Discover Japan in a different way on our Walk Japan tour. On this tour you’ll get to explore Japan on foot, reaching out of the way places and wonders. The trip includes four days walking on the Kumano Kodo Way, an ancient pilgrimage trail connecting Buddhist shrines on the mountainous and rainforest-covered Kii Peninsula. Hike through dense forest thick with giant camphor trees up to ridges looking down over the blanket of mist covering the valley below. And along the way you’ll stay in traditional lodges and ryokans where you’re rewarded with delicious local food and scenic mountain views.

We finish the way at Nachi Taisha, the last of the shrines, which sits beside the impressive Nachi-no-Otaki, Japan’s tallest waterfall.

10. Visit the Sapporo Snow Festival

Another way to discover Japan in a different way to the usual tourist visit is to attend a festival. Up in far north of Japan sits Sapporo, where in February they hold the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. This exciting festival takes advantage of the cold winter weather as impressive snow statues and ice sculptures appear in venues around the city. There’s even the chance to stop for a drink at one of the many ice bars – not your typical Japanese thing to do!

 

Explore Japan on a small group tour

From tours of the highlights on a cultural trip to cycling seaside paths and walking ancient pilgrim routes, there are many different ways to discover Japan. Whichever trip you choose, your holiday will immerse you in Japanese culture and create lifelong memories.
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