Journeying through Japan's most unique treasures

Planning a trip but don’t know where to start? Here are 9 unforgettable experiences that you wouldn’t find elsewhere in the world but Japan

By Kushmita Bose

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Asian woman wearing japanese traditional kimono at Yasaka Pagoda in Kyoto, Japan.
Asian woman wearing japanese traditional kimono at Yasaka Pagoda in Kyoto, Japan.

Published: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 12:08 PM

The Land of the Rising Sun is one of the most captivating countries in the world. The country is filled with one-of-a-kind attractions that are uniquely Japanese. This means that some of the best things to do in Japan are usually those that you won’t be able to find anywhere else.

Whether it's iconic landmarks like Mount Fuji, expansive national parks, traditional arts markets, or museums, Japan boasts a plethora of unmissable attractions waiting to be explored.

Stay in the oldest hotel in the world

What’s a more authentic and unique experience in Japan than staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) run by the same family for over 1,300 years? Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan has housed various guests; from samurai and famed shoguns (army commanders) to politicians and tourists. To top it off, it’s both the world’s oldest hotel and longest-standing hot-spring inn.

Escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo with a three-and-a-half-hour scenic drive, and treat yourself to an enchanting overnight stay in this majestic inn, where you can rejuvenate with a soothing onsen experience.

Hydrangea and Hakone Tozan Railway
Hydrangea and Hakone Tozan Railway

Board the breathtaking Hydrangea Train railway

You don’t have to confine yourself to just a unique place to visit in Japan. Expand your horizons beyond conventional tourist spots in Japan, and delve into the country's unique modes of transportation. Experience the breathtaking Hakone Tozan Railway, which ascends to an altitude of 750 meters, offering mesmerising views along the journey. Fondly referred to as the ‘Hydrangea Train’, this railway earned its nickname from the tens of thousands of vibrant native hydrangea plants that have been blooming along the tracks since the ’70s.

Mt Fuji in the early morning with reflection on the lake kawaguchiko
Mt Fuji in the early morning with reflection on the lake kawaguchiko

Climb Mount Fuji

Have you really visited Japan if you haven’t been to Mount Fuji — one of its three sacred mountains? The country’s tallest peak, Mount Fuji, is an active volcano. Though its last eruption was in 1707, the lava has formed countless caves among its slopes. Two notable caves — the Narusawa Hyoketsu Ice Cave and the Fuji Fugaku Wind Cave, are essential stops if you’re looking for unique things in Japan.

Walk on ceilings and along trails in Yoro Park

In Yoro Park’s Site of Reversible Destiny, objects are quite literally reversed. This expansive and peculiar theme park goes beyond the ordinary, boasting 148 twisting paths, mazes featuring furniture beneath the floor, a basin field shaped like a bowl, and buildings positioned on their sides. Gravity has no rules in this unique place in Japan as you run, skip, and jump through its different sections.

Amble through Fushimi Inari Shrine

Giving a new meaning to the word ‘countless’, the number of torii (symbolic structures marking sacred sites) gates in Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine increases every year. Some of these symbolic structures trace back to the eighth century and are donated by some famous figures, including Toyotomi Hideyoshi: One of the most famous samurai. With the current count surpassing 10,000 torii gates, they form a captivating four-kilometer pathway that meanders around Mount Inari. Embark on a unique Japanese experience by walking this trail, which served as a filming location for ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’.

Observe macaques soaking at Jigokudani Monkey Park

Don't miss out on the exceptional and endearing spectacle of macaques leisurely soaking in an onsen and interacting in large groups – a truly unique experience in Japan. Located in their natural habitat, Jigokudani Monkey Park is home to Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys.

While these chimps inhabit the park throughout the year, witnessing them enjoy the hot springs is a winter-exclusive treat. So, if you definitely want to see this one-of-a-kind sight, plan your visit between December and March.

Get a glimpse into the hot springs of Chinoike Jigoku

The onsen, undoubtedly holds an essential spot on every visitor's list of distinctive destinations in Japan. Translating to ‘hell’, Jigoku derives its name from the association with reddish shades, a result of minerals and iron in the water, lending this hot spring a captivating deep-red hue. Adding to its formidable appearance, Chinoike Jigoku boasts a boiling temperature of 79°C, rendering it too hot for bathing. Still, it’s a sight to behold that draws in crowds looking for a one-of-a-kind picture.

Be Spirited Away at Studio Ghibli Museum or Park

Known as Japan’s version of Disney, Studio Ghibli has released films we hold close to our hearts. Crowd favourites include My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo.

Now, prepare to witness the enchanting colors and whimsical illustrations from Studio Ghibli brought to life at the Ghibli Museum! Though small in size, this museum, reminiscent of an Italian villa, is surrounded by lush greenery that encompasses various exhibition buildings.

Group of snow monkeys sitting in a hot spring at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.
Group of snow monkeys sitting in a hot spring at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.

As you immerse yourself in this meaningful homage to one of Japan's most beloved animation studios, the dreamy ambiance may tempt you to capture lasting memories. However, it's important to note that photography is not allowed within the museum, making this Japanese experience one of those instances you must ‘see to believe.’

Gain prosperity at Zeniarai Benten Shrine

Feeling a bit disheartened when checking your bank account? A remedy might be found at Zeniarai Benten Shrine. The term ‘zeniarai’ translates to ‘coin washing’, and legend has it that visitors who wash their coins in the shrine’s spring will eventually have double the amount. Upon entering the cave, visitors place their money in provided baskets and use scoopers to retrieve the holy water for washing their cash, symbolically blessing their finances. Give it a try and partake in one of Japan's distinctive activities – the more coins you wash, the merrier!

— kushmita@khaleejtimes.com


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