“It’s better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times” – Asian Proverb.
Did you know that in just six years, inbound tourism to Japan tripled? From 10 million visitors in 2013, the numbers rapidly grew to over 31 million in 2019! That figure was set to hit 40 million in 2020 during the Tokyo Olympics.
So, what is Japan famous for anyway? Why has this country been increasingly popular with foreign tourists in such a short time? To put things bluntly, the secret got out about how mind-blowing this destination actually is!
As I’m a serial visitor and self-confessed Japanophile, I’ve created my Japan travel blog to help take the guesswork out of planning your own trip. From sharing Japanese etiquette and phrases for tourists to detailed itineraries with a strong focus on history and culture, I’ve got every step of your Japan journey covered!
If you’re hoping to visit someday, allow me to present 29 amazing things Japan is known for. Being an Invisible Tourist is about enjoying the popular things in addition to “blending in” as best as possible, so to learn what you need to look out for to enrich your visit, read on for more!
This guide to things Japan is famous for will cover:
This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
What is Japan Known For? 29 Remarkable Things You Must Experience
Before we jump into famous things the Land of the Rising Sun is known for, it’s important to note that due to its popularity with tourists in recent years, Japan became a victim of its own success. Learn how you can enjoy the best of everything and avoid contributing to overtourism in Japan once you’re all done here.
With that said, here are the amazing things Japan is known for!
Natural wonders are famous in Japan
1. Is Japan famous for cherry blossoms?
Absolutely! I love Japan because of its undying passion for sakura. Cherry blossom season is such an exciting time to explore the country, from the first signs of buds beginning to grow until they reach peak bloom. The pinky hues herald warmer, longer days are ahead.
From hanami picnics to special seasonal snacks and treats, nowhere else quite jumps into spring like Japan!
If you’re hoping to see this marvellous sight during your trip, the best time to visit Japan for cherry blossoms is from late March until mid-April.
TIP: Did you know that while this is the most popular time, it’s not the only time? My guide to visiting Japan in spring outlines how to see gorgeous Japanese blooms from mid-February.
NOTE: Want to skip spring’s tourist crwods? I’ve detailed the advantages of visiting Japan in winter and Japan in summer, too!
2. Mount Fuji
Mt Fuji is one of the most iconic places to visit in Japan for obvious reasons. But did you know seeing Japan’s most sacred peak is not guaranteed on any trip? Maybe you’re familiar with the disclaimer that it’s possible to see her “on a clear day,” which sounds obvious. However, there are only around 80 clear days in a year where you can see Mt Fuji without her cloudy blanket!
When planning a trip to Japan, it’s important to note the likelihood of seeing Mt Fuji. Spring and Autumn have the highest chances, with cooler temperatures. However summer is possibly the worst time for visibility due to cloud cover created by the humidity.
During my recent summer trip I realised there are ways to get around this! I explain in my guide to things to do in Fujinomiya over a weekend.
TIP: Hope to see Mt Fuji someday? Check my detailed guide to a Mt Fuji day trip from Tokyo featuring wonderful locations such as Lake Kawaguchiko, ancient temples, 8 sacred ponds of Oshino Hakkai and more! Alternatively, I loved the views from Fujinomiya. Not on the mainstream tourist radar, the views of Fujisan were spectacular!
After a long day of walking and sightseeing, what sounds better than taking time to relax by soaking in an onsen 温泉 (hot water spring) overlooking Mt Fuji?
Thanks to the country’s geothermal origins, onsen can contain minerals that are believed to have healing powers, and can be found all over Japan in ryokans, hotels and even resort towns.
There is a special etiquette to follow when bathing in onsen, however. They can be segregated between males and females as it’s traditional to bathe in your birthday suit (yes, really!) unless they are rotenburo (outdoor onsen) where bathing suits may be permitted.
TIP: Don’t worry, you can also book ryokans with private onsen if you wish! Read my detailed guide about the best onsen in Japan to help you select the right one for you.
Japan is famous for food, of course!
4. Japanese cuisine
Where do I even begin with this?! Some of the most famous things about Japan include food. There are more obvious Japanese cuisine items such as sushi, sashimi and tempura that you may be familiar with at home. Although in Japan, it’s all taken to a new level!
Expect dishes to take on the appearance of miniature artworks in most cases, with a high level of attention to detail put into presentation. This is part of omotenashi, more on this down the page.
Ramen is one of the most popular dishes for tourists to try (you can even make your own ramen noodles from scratch in Kyoto as I did!), so are street foods such as yakitori (grilled meat skewers), dango (rice ball skewers), senbei (rice crackers), soba and udon (noodles), mochi (rice cake) gyoza (pan-fried dumplings), taiyaki (fish-shaped filled pancakes).
Fresh seafood is abundant in Japan, too. Don’t forget the amazing assortment of ice cream flavours that even include wasabi, back sesame and gold leaf!
My personal favourite is the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth wagyu. This is best enjoyed at a yakiniku (Japanese barbecue eatery) where waiters serve thinly-sliced steaks and you cook them yourself from a small grill built into the table.
TIP: Not sure what to try? These scrumptious food tours in Tokyo with a friendly local to show you the ropes are a fun experience!
TIP: In Tokyo, why not try sushi delivered to your table by mini bullet train at Uobei Shibuya Dogenzaka?
5. Crazy snack & drink flavours
Perhaps one of the most famous things Japan is known for is experimentation with unusual flavours. Fancy black sesame or wasabi flavoured ice cream? Matcha flavoured gyoza? Instant-noodle flavoured soft drink? Sake flavoured Kit Kats?
They’re flavours you didn’t know you needed and things you can only buy in Japan – don’t be shy and give them a try!
TIP: My detailed guide to snacks from Japan will help you understand the cultural significance between traditional treats and more modern ones.
6. Sake (Nihonshu)
Ahhh, my favourite alcoholic beverage in Japan! Pronounced sa-keh, this Japanese rice wine is created from fermented rice that has been polished to remove the bran. As a drink it is quite versatile in the sense that it can be enjoyed hot or cold.
One of my top places I recommend you visit to try sake is Takayama. As the mountain water is so pure, it creates the most amazing sake and breweries are abundant in the Old Town. Another is Fujinomiya, where the town brewery uses spring water from Mt Fuji!
Do you know the correct way to ask for sake in Japan? Asking for sake 酒 will NOT mean asking for Japan’s national beverage, but alcohol in general. If you’d like to try actual sake, you need to ask for Nihonshu 日本酒 which means “Japanese rice wine.” Check out the rare red sake I tried on a Kyoto bar hopping tour below!
TIP: Centuries ago, rice was considered a luxury that was only enjoyed by those able to afford it in higher classes of society. This is why you’ll see sake barrels and rice left as offerings to kami at shrines throughout Japan.
What exactly do I mean by sampuru? Translating to “sample,” sampuru サンプル is the short form of shokuhin sampuru 食品 サンプル, meaning “food sample.”
In Japan, it is very common to see replica foods on display at cafés and restaurants. This is sometimes in place of a menu, so customers can see exactly what they can expect from a dish. This practice began during the early Showa era (1926 – 1989) and its popularity spread throughout the country.
TIP: Do you love ramen as much as I do? Learn how I made this fake Japanese food souvenir at a top sampuru factory in Tokyo, and how you can too!
Transport passes to buy in advance for Japan
For prices and to order a Japan Rail Pass, click here.
Japan is known for convenience
8. Vending machines
Feeling thirsty? You’ll never be left wanting for a refreshment in Japan. I don’t call this country “the land of convenience” for nothing, which you’ll see why in some further points down the page.
You can find vending machines selling obvious things like drinks (including alcoholic), as well as a range of goods such as hot noodles to socks, umbrellas to fresh eggs, bananas to neckties. Some even dispense lucky charms at temples and shrines – these make great souvenirs from Japan.
Anyone can own a vending machine, meaning there are around 5 million throughout land – that’s one machine for every 31 people! It’s not a surprise to find them on rural streets surrounded by dense forest, or even on top of Mount Fuji.
TIP: Gachapon are a smaller type of vending machine, filled with a lucky dip of the most obscure trinkets inside.
9. Convenience stores
Known affectionately as konbini by locals, convenience stores in Japan are quite the opposite to ones you’re likely familiar with.
While you may never dream of eating the old refrigerated chicken sandwich or sad-looking sushi from a convenience store back home, in Japan this is completely normal as the food is fresh each day – and tastes amazing!
You can grab a small handful of items for any meal under 1000 yen (under 10.00 USD).
The main convenience stores are 7-11, Family Mart and Lawson. I personally love Lawson’s baked goods for breakfast and Family Mart’s delicious karaage (fried) chicken.
TIP: Some ideas for snacks to try are onigiri, senbei, melon pan, chocolates… Check my detailed guide to Japanese snacks to find out what they are!
10. All kinds of robots
Tell me another place on Earth where a dinosaur can check you into your hotel, oversized mechanical beings dance alongside people at a restaurant and their Olympic Mascots were actually cute robots?
Japan is a world leader in technology and automation, especially when it comes to robotics. As early as 1986, Honda began working on ASIMO, a humanoid robot. He can interact with objects and even understand people – incredibly lifelike!
TIP: The 18-metre tall Gundam replica in Gundam Factory, Yokohama is a pilot-operated robot based on the popular anime franchise of the same name. He features 24 moving joints and weighs a whopping 25 tonnes! My things to do in Yokohama guide has more info.
11. Unique accommodation options
Travelling Japan to a budget and want to experience capsule hotels? Keen to witness the quirky decor inside a love hotel? Or delight in discovering old-world charm and phenomenal Japanese hospitality at a ryokan or minshuku?
As well as your average Western-style hotels dotted throughout each major city, Japan has a multitude of different accommodation options to suit all budgets and preferences.
TIP: My guide to where to stay in Tokyo covers some of the city’s best accommodation I’ve personally tried-and-tested!
12. Futuristic toilets
How could I not mention this one? Japan has some of the most advanced toilets on the planet, with heated seats (my favourite in winter!), buttons to play music and even built-in bidets. Trust me…. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!
There is even a transparent public toilet outdoors in Shibuya, Tokyo – however, the coloured glass turns opaque when someone enters it.
Japanese women are said to be rather shy when it comes to public bathroom habits. Uplifting music and running water sounds from the toilet on demand can mask other less-pleasant sounds!
Japan is popular for the culture of its people
13. Omotenashi & punctuality
Have you heard of omotenashi? This refers to exceptional Japanese hospitality I mentioned earlier. Japanese people take immense pride in their work and will literally go out of their way to help you if needed!
TIP: Find out some examples of omotenashi and the meanings to other beautiful Japanese words you can use to bring more meaning to everyday life.
Being punctual is a big deal in Japan, too. It’s considered very impolite to be late to work or a meeting and keep people waiting.
This goes for being early, too. So much so it made global headlines when a Japanese railway company profusely apologised to passengers when a train departed a mere 20 seconds ahead of schedule. Yes, really.
14. Temples, shrines and mixing religion
Religion is not exclusive in Japan, as people can claim to follow more than one. Prior to the Meiji Restoration, Buddhist and Shinto religions shared symbolism used on temples and shrines still standing today.
Japanese people adopt different aspects of each religion for various stages of their lives. There is a saying in Japan: “Born into Shinto and die as Buddhist.”
TIP: How to tell them apart? Find out in my guide to a Kamakura day trip, one of Japan’s ancient capital cities. One of the best ways to experience ancient Japan is during a Nara day trip, too.
The most famous Shinto shrine in Japan is Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, its thousands of red torii gates weaving their way up the sacred mountain, while the most famous Buddhist temple in Japan would either be Kiyomizu-Dera also in Kyoto or Senso-ji in Tokyo.
15. Safety & low crime
Japan is one of the safest countries you could visit, having held a position in the world’s top 10 peaceful countries for 13 years running. It’s one of the very few countries I feel comfortable letting my guard down a little.
I have to agree Japan is an ideal destination for solo travellers. I’ve visited as a solo female on a few occasions and have never felt unsafe in any situation, including walking around or catching trains by myself at night.
TIP: It’s considered so safe in fact, it’s not uncommon to see salarymen fall asleep in public places and wake up later with all their valuables still in tow.
16. All the kawaii things
Translating to “cute” in Japanese, need I say more about kawaii culture? Anything can become kawaii in Japan, from construction fences to desserts, toys to signage. Every prefecture even has a cute mascot to represent the local tourism board, too!
Japan is famous for preserving history & tradition
17. Geisha & Maiko
When people think of Kyoto, no doubt a thought of graceful geisha comes to mind. Wearing centuries of tradition in the form of colourful kimono and spending years mastering the creative arts, geisha are not what you may have heard.
In order to not look like a tourist in Japan, don’t mistake geisha or maiko as courtesans. This is a common misconception that dates back to WWII. Actual courtesans would dress up as geisha to solicit American soldiers, looking similar to oiran – more below.
The role of a geisha is that of a hostess, an entertainer – highly skilled in the areas of dance, tea ceremonies, musical instruments (shamisen specifically), ikebana (flower arranging) and more.
Here’s how to differentiate between words used to describe geisha:
- Geisha: General term, most commonly used by foreigners and means “art person” or “performance artist.”
- Geiko: Kyoto dialect, meaning “master artist” therefore a master of their art. Wear lighter makeup and simpler hairstyles.
- Maiko: Geisha in training, wearing more elaborate kimono, hair ornaments and heavier makeup. It takes five years to become a geisha.
- Oiran: High ranking courtesans skilled in traditional Japanese arts and also hired for more intimate experiences. Very elaborate hair style and komo–geta (tall shoes).
Can you guess which is which from the images below?
TIP: If you would like to meet a geisha, find out how I learnt 6 traditional experiences during a geisha experience in Tokyo.
18. Tea ceremonies
While we’re on the subject of geisha, Japan is famous for its traditional tea ceremonies. Becoming popular in Japan during the 16th century, tea ceremonies focus on four principles: harmony, respect, purity and peace.
The green tea used in most ceremonies is from the matcha capital of Japan, Uji, a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka.
TIP: I was so fortunate to have undertaken this beautiful tradition in Japan on a few occasions. Find out what to expect during your own tea ceremony in Kyoto with a local geisha, or a tea ceremony in Tokyo with a 5th generation tea master (and make your own wagashi sweets, too!)
19. Sumo wrestling
Considered the national sport of Japan, sumo wrestling has been professionally practiced in the country since the Kamakura Period (mid-16th century), but its origins can be traced back to the 12th century.
The word sumo itself is derived from sumau, which means “to fight.” During a sumo tournament, spectators gather to watch two men try and throw their opponent to the ground in a show of strength.
TIP: As mentioned in my Tokyo itinerary, the Sumo wrestlers attend tournaments only 3 times per year in Tokyo. This means the chance to watch it may not coincide with your visit. However, it’s possible to meet sumo and watch their morning practice with a local guide on most days!
20. Preserving centuries-old arts & festivals
Japan has managed to keep many old traditions alive until this day in the arts sector, such as ancient pottery, ikebana (flower arranging), calligraphy, origami (paper folding), kabuki (theatre), and martial arts to name a few. The skills required to participate in these activities have been passed down through multiple generations.
Matsuri are festivals held to celebrate certain occasions, like the arrival of spring or to honour a particular kami (god). The Gion festival held during summer in Kyoto has been practiced for over 1200 years. Learn more about the different kinds of Japanese festivals here.
21. Samurai & Ninjas
Samurai were warriors of nobility in Japan, with the first appearing around the 8th century and gradually rising in importance during the 12th century to fight off Mongol invasion. They were appointed by the Emperor and awarded special privileges, such as land. Wearing expertly-crafted armour made from leather or lightweight metal, they were highly skilled swordsmen to defend their region. The samurai class was abolished in the 19th century.
TIP: It’s believed every Japanese person today has some samurai blood.
Ninjas on the other hand can be traced back to the 14th century and were covert agents hired by feudal lords. Their goals were to use deception, sabotage or even assassinate their targets. Fun fact: Ninjas were female, too!
TIP: Dress up as a ninja or samurai for a day at Edo Wonderland in Nikko – more about how in my guide to day trips from Tokyo.
No list about what Japan is famous for would be complete without mentioning castles! Built in strategic locations as a means of defence and primarily constructed from wood and stone, Japanese castles are a sight to behold.
Perhaps one of the most impressive landmarks of Japan is the gorgeous Himeji Castle. Resembling a bird about to take flight, the castle is known as the “White Heron” and is one of only 12 original castles of Japan.
Surviving fires, earthquakes and even bombing during WWII, Himeji Castle has endured many struggles since it was built in the 14th century, but is still just as beautiful today.
Aside from Himeji Castle, remaining original castles worth adding to your Japan itinerary include Matsumoto Castle, Hikone Castle, Hirosaki Castle and Uwajima Castle.
Usually if you see some kind of omulet in Japan, it isn’t there for no reason. Lucky charms and trinkets to ward off bad fortune are a big deal in Japanese culture, and these cool things from Japan make some of the best souvenirs to bring home!
TIP: Have you heard of the waving fortune cats, Daruma dolls, lucky red tai, omamori or tsuko-tegata? Find out what they are, their meanings and where to find them in my detailed guide to what to buy in Japan!
Innovation is next level in Japan
24. Shinkansen (bullet trains)
Did you even visit Japan if you didn’t take a shinkansen journey? Japan is famous for technological advances, and jaw-dropping bullet trains are no exception.
Reaching speeds of 300 kilometres per hour, people have enjoyed the ability to reach far-flung destinations in the country by rail since the 1960’s.
Yes, karaoke originated in Japan! Leave your dignity behind and sing your heart out to your favourite songs in a private booth.
As an Australian I absolutely love karaoke with a group of friends on a night out, with plenty of food and drinks on hand to build up some Dutch courage and have a blast together!
26. Anime & manga
Is Japan famous for anime? You bet! Having originated here, Japan is a literal paradise for manga (black and white comics) and anime (animated version of the manga) lovers!
Anime and manga are a major part of Japanese popular culture. Pokemon and Naruto are believed to be the most popular. The best places in Tokyo for anime lovers is Akihabara or Nakano Broadway, where you can hunt down anything to do with your favourite characters such as figurines, books and other merchandise.
27. Old and modern architecture
The fascinating balance of old and new architecture throughout Japan is reason enough to visit alone. With modern architecture such as the Tokyo SkyTree overlooking centuries-old wooden temples such as Senso-ji, one cannot help but feel a connection to the past and the people who walked these streets centuries ago.
My personal favourites are preserved Edo-era towns (1603-1867), a very prosperous time in Japan when the country was closed off from the outside world. Obviously there are many more than listed here, but they are few ideas to get you started:
- Old Town Kawagoe, Saitama (read my Kawagoe itinerary)
- Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, Okayama (read my Kurashiki travel guide)
- Gion, Kyoto (read my Kyoto itinerary)
- Old Town, Takayama (read my Takayama itinerary)
- Higashi-chaya, Kanazawa (read my Kanazawa itinerary)
- Chinatown, Yokohama (read my guide to things to do in Yokohama)
- More ideas in my guide to venturing off the beaten path in Japan.
28. Animal cafés
As Japan is one of the world’s most densely populated countries, sometimes locals can’t keep pets in their small apartments. Cat cafés were created for animal lovers to cuddle their favourite felines whilst enjoying a cup of tea or coffee.
These cafés expanded beyond domestic animals such as cats and dogs to the more exotic – owls, hedgehogs and foxes to name a few. However, I have never visited any as here on my blog I don’t promote unethical animal experiences such as these (owls are tied to a perch; hedgehogs are nocturnal but made to stay awake and handled by tourists during the day).
If visiting animal cafés interests you, I kindly urge you to do your own research into the treatment of the animals at the places you hoped to see and draw your own conclusions.
TIP: Find out more in my guide about how to be a responsible tourist if you’re interested in using your hidden power as a tourist for good.
29. Shibuya Crossing
With over 3,000 people crossing it at any one time, Shibuya Crossing or Shibuya “Scramble” holds the Guinness World Record for the busiest street crossing in the world.
While it may sound overwhelming to cross a junction with that many other people, it really is a kind of organised chaos and not nearly as scary as you may believe!
What else is there to do in Shibuya besides the Scramble crossing? Take a look at my guide to unreal things to do in Shibuya during the day and night, where to find the best ramen in Shibuya, how to find hidden Shibuya street food spots with a local or even my insider tips for visiting Shibuya Sky!
TIP: Nearby Shinjuku Station holds the title of the world’s busiest train station, with 3.5 million people passing through its gates EVERY DAY.
What is Japan famous for producing?
While Japan is known for advanced technology besides all the famous things I’ve listed above, the country is also most known for its major export industries which include automotives, machinery, iron and steel, pharmaceuticals, ship building, textiles and even precious metals. Find out more here.
Concluding what Japan is famous for
So there you have it with my extensive list of famous things Japan is known for! From various kinds of foods, many conveniences and the culture of its people to stunning natural wonders, preservation of history and tradition, Japan is famous for many special things.
Let’s not forget how Japanese people are innovators in numerous fields, too – this amazing country really does have it all. Don’t forget to pick up some amazing things to bring back from Japan during your visit!
Want to learn my strategies for how to “blend in” anywhere around the globe? Find out by reading my #1 Amazon New Release Book.
Did I miss any famous things in Japan that you would add to this list? What things didn’t you know about Japan? How many of these Japanese things do you hope to experience for yourself? Let me know in the comments below.
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Until next time,
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