Always loved the idea of visiting Japan? You may have had to put it on hold during the pandemic, now that the culture-rich country has finally reopened its borders to tourists in October, don’t let anything else stop you.
While it is wise to keep an eye on those of the country access rulesmake your Japanese travel dreams a reality, with these breathtaking experiences you will never, ever forget.
Float on a “sea of clouds”
There is a Japanese word for these low cloud layers: unkai. Like the Northern Lights, this natural event can never be guaranteed. Still, you can increase your chances by visiting the most renowned unkai spots early in the morning in September and October.
Our favorite unkai spot? It probably speaks for itself Unkai Terrace in Hokkaido, or the Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Okayama Prefecture (pictured above), perched 410.8 m on top of Mount Gagyu, known as Japan’s “mountain castle in the sky”. Visit the Bitchu Matsuyama Castle Unkai Observatory for the spectacular view of the sea of clouds.
Enjoy the traditional charm of Kyoto
Discover Japan’s many traditions and more rural appeal visiting the cultural capital of Kyoto – you can read our full self-guided guide here.
Expect Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, samurai museums, and picturesque gardens and palaces. Since Kyoto has been the setting of several movies, books, and anime, it almost feels like returning to a familiar place (yes, even if you’re visiting for the first time!).
Try skiing with a difference
How is skiing in Japan different from Europe? Thanks to its unique climate and location, Japan is known for its abundance of powder snow: light, dry and… fun to ski! Head over to #Japanuary to make the most of it. Rather than the steepest slopes, this country tends to offer shorter and milder slopes dotted with trees and breathtaking views. Instead of drink bars, après-ski in Japan begins with a visit to an “onsen,” one of the country’s iconic hot springs and bathing facilities.
Hokkaido is best known for its ski resorts, such as Niseko and Rusutsu, and so is the Japanese Alps on the main island of Honshu (especially Nozawaonsen, Shiga Kogen, and the Hakuba Valley). Or try a ski trip with a twist in Takayama, a historic town filled with wooden merchant houses from the Edo period.
Kuidaore (“eat till you drop”) in Osaka
The concept of kuidaore, or “eat till you drop”, is often associated with this city – known as the country’s cuisine – and especially the neon-lit district of DÅ tonbori. Choose from unique regional dishes and mouth-watering recipes from all over the country (and beyond!).
Some must-tries include okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake), takoyaki (octopus balls), and kushikatsu (meat and vegetable skewer). For a hearty bowl of ramen, lose yourself in the vibrant neighborhoods of Minami and Tennoji.
Admire the lifelike art of ‘Monet’s pound’
Technically, this pond in Seki is nameless. Thanks to its crystal-clear surface and colorful water lilies, it’s now Instagram famous for looking just like Monet’s paintings (but with Japanese carp swimming around). Visit in early summer to see the water lilies in full bloom or in fall when the trees around the pond turn red.
While in Seki, explore the local temples, the Traditional Swordsmith Museum, and the giant Japanese cedar forest.
Enjoy tea with furry friends in an animal cafe
Spending time with animals can have a de-stressing effect and boost your feel-good hormones. Fortunately, cafes where you can pet and play with them are extremely popular in Japan, especially in Tokyo. However, not all pet cafes are ethical. So try to support those who are making a positive difference in the lives of their residents. Rescue Cat and Dog Café Lua and Neco Republic are homes for rescued or protected cats looking for a home.
Alexandra is the founder of Travel Sisters, a women-only app and community of verified members, which aims to make travel easier, safer and more fun for women by helping them meet like-minded bums and share their journeys. As a travel and holiday guide contributor for the Evening Standard, Alexandra covers trending destinations, city guides and travel hacks