Welcome to Japan, a country famous for its ancient traditions and advanced technology. Once you land in Tokyo or Osaka, it’s impossible not to find fun things to do during your holidays. From the majestic views of Mount Fuji and the sumptuous Shinto shrines in Kyoto or Nikko to pristine beaches to relax all over the Okinawa Archipelago, the hardest is to choose what to do! Considered one of the safest diving destinations in the world, the country of the rising sun, and especially its southern prefecture, Okinawa, is one of the favourite places to go for ocean lovers who are into surfing or scuba diving.
At world-class dives sites such as Yonaguni Monument, Manta City, or the Kerama National Park, you will be able to see turtles, hammerhead sharks, and manta rays or experience wreck diving. But there are so many other things to do besides diving in Japan like trying some local food, relaxing in a hot spring bath, or even visiting an interactive digital exhibition that will blow your mind. Here are 15 of my favourites activities to do in Japan as a scuba diver for you to find some inspiration. Note most of these activities include places below 600 m of altitude. Still, for the few locations which are above, altitude is indicated so you can safely plan your itinerary between scuba diving and sightseeing during your stay in Japan.
- Chasing the best views of Mount Fuji
- Swimming with turtles in the Kerama National Park, Okinawa
- Diving with manta rays in Ishigaki, Okinawa
- Exploring an ancient sunken city in Yonaguni, Okinawa
- Soaking in hot springs in the Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka
- Eat delicious sushi without breaking the bank at a kaiten sushi restaurant
- Wearing a kimono while visiting Kyoto’s most beautiful temples
- Being blow away by the Borderless digital exhibition, Odaiba, Tokyo
- Celebrate Hanami with a picnic under the cherry blossom trees
- Admiring the Autumn colours of the “momiji” maple leaves in Nikko
- Meeting with the snow monkeys in Jigokudani Park, Nagano
- Comparing the best skyline views all over Tokyo
- Ordering a matcha latter at a maid café in Akihabara, Tokyo
- Swimming at the most beautiful beach in Japan, on Miyakojima, Okinawa
- Learning Japanese in Japan at a language school
1 – Chasing the best views of Mount Fuji in Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi
Admiring the majestic Mount Fuji, the highest peak in Japan with 3776 m of altitude, is on any visitor to do list. However, seeing the most famous volcano in Japan can be trickier than it initially sounds. Indeed, fog and clouds often cover the iconic Japanese peak, which can even be seen, on the other hand, from Tokyo on a clear day. The best is to get up early since the visibility is usually better in the morning.
Some of the best views of Mount Fuji, called “Fujisan” in Japanese, are located on its northern side, in the region of the five lakes around the town of Kawaguchiko. At Spring when the cherry tree blossom or at Fall when the maple trees turn red, catching a shot of Mount Fuji and its reflection on Kawaguchi Lake or Motosu Lake through the branch is the promise of a killer shot ( for information, Kawaguchiko is above 800 m of altitude). Still, in the same area, the pagoda of Chureito is maybe one of the most famous scenery in Japan with its gracious red pagoda and Mount Fuji (if lucky) in the background.
But if managing through the clouds wasn’t enough, planning for nature blossom or autumn colour leaves can be even trickier due to altitude. For instance, I visited Kawaguchiko two weeks too early for cherry blossom, but I think it’s part of the fun. As a rule of thumb, you can keep in mind mid-April for cherry blossom and mid-October for “momiji” leaves in Kawaguchiko.
2 – Swimming with turtles in the Kerama National Park, Okinawa
The Kerama Shoto National Park is the reason why scuba diving in Okinawa is famous. Directly accessible from Naha thanks to daily ferries and scuba diving charter boats, it is surprisingly easy to visit as a scuba diver or even only an enthusiast snorkeler.
The islands are fantastic natural havens with paradise-like beaches and great snorkelling, which you won’t find on the main island of Okinawa. Depending on the time you have to visit the Kerama Island, you may have to choose between Zamami, Aka and Tokashiki Islands, the three main islands of the park. Tokashiki Island is the closest from Naha, it only takes 35 minutes to cross over, while it takes about an hour to get to Aka and Zamami which are on the same ferry line.
There are beautiful dive sites all around the islands of the park, but I got a personal preference for the sites on the west coast of Tokashiki near Aaren Beach. However, as I stayed both on Zamami and Takashiki islands, I could go early in the morning to snorkel with turtles directly from the beach, respectively at Ama Beach and Tokashiku Beach. Unforgettable!
3 – Diving with manta rays in Ishigaki, Okinawa
Ishigaki is another scuba diving highlight of the Okinawa Prefecture thanks to its resident manta rays which can be seen all year round. Be aware that the best spots to go diving in Ishigaki with manta rays are located near Kabira Bay between April and October. As the winds change during wintertime, manta rays can still be found southward in the waters of Kuroshima or Iriomote islands.
Beyond scuba diving, the “stonewall” island offers a perfect balance of peaceful nature and lively culture. Thanks to the numerous ferry linking the Yaeyama Islands, even you won’t be able to visit them all, don’t miss the opportunity to explore Taketomi-Jima. It is only 10-minute away. This is the loveliest and most preserved island I got to visit in the entire Okinawa Prefecture.
4 – Exploring an ancient sunken city in Yonaguni, Okinawa
Yonaguni is simply the most legendary spot of Okinawa and Japan for scuba divers. It is usually the reason why people hear about scuba diving in Okinawa for the first time. Yonaguni is the westernmost island of Japan and is actually closer to Taiwan by being just a bit more than 100 km away. With its endemic horse species and green grass ranches, it isn’t the regular tropical island you would expect.
The main highlight of Yonaguni is its underwater monument, called Kaitei Iseki in Japanese. Some call it the Yonaguni Monument, some the sunken city of Yonaguni, surrounded by myths and opposing scientific studies, the truth is nobody knows for sure what this massive stone formation is. In any case, you won’t be disappointed as this is a once-in-a-lifetime drift dive!
On top of this, between January and March, if you are an experienced diver with at least 100 dives, you may give it a try to see the hammerhead sharks when diving in Yonaguni. Be aware that I saw them five times out of nine, so being patient and persistent is usually required.
5 – Soaking in hot springs in the Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka
If I had to keep only one thing to do in Japan, it would be soaking in a natural hot spring outside while having a snowflake falling on top of my nose! While I had this experience after visiting the snow monkeys in Nagano Prefecture, my best onsen experiences were in Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, and in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, as I was scuba diving in the Izu Peninsula.
They are usually fully equipped facilities with lockers and all the soap, shampoo, conditioner and hairdryer you may need. I enjoyed so much taking my shower and resting in the hot spring bath after that I would use it each morning and each evening whenever I stayed in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) which are usually built around one. We’re never too clean, right?
The water can be hot, from 38°C to 42°C, so depending on people, it can be more or less challenging to get in or stay long. As the water from the spring is continuously flowing in the hot spring bath, no chlorine is used at all, leaving the skin incredibly soft. Each volcanic hot spring has different minerals concentrations and hence different healing properties. This is such a good excuse to try as many as possible, right?
6 – Eat delicious sushi without breaking the bank at a kaiten sushi restaurant
Thanks to the “kaiten” sushi restaurants, the budget traveller can enjoy quality sushi at the best price. The kaiten is a rotating conveyor belt which is presenting different types of sushis the sushi chefs have freshly prepared. You just need to pick the plate you like, and you will pay based on the colour of the plate and how many you ate.
The Hamazushi chain has restaurants all over Japan, I loved their concept so much that I went to their addresses in Tokyo, Ito and even Naha, in Okinawa. Their average price, 150¥ for 2 nigiri sushi, is so affordable that I usually ended up with a bill of 800 to 1000¥ (about 7 to 9€)! The address in Tokyo is 24-8 Udagawachō, 2 Chome−13, Takadanobaba.
7 – Wearing a kimono while visiting Kyoto’s most beautiful temples
I didn’t plan for it, but the first thing I ever did in Japan, was to rent a kimono in Kyoto thinking I was purchasing one! While it was before I could communicate in Japanese, I should have known that kimonos are so expensive that the 50€ I paid could only be for a rental! If you think this is expensive, first yes, it is dear, but you can find places which do it for cheaper. However, even if I felt a bit stupid for not understanding, it remains one of my favourite experience ever in Japan, as it included nearly 30 minutes of elaborate dressing up in a real silk kimono, not a cotton yukata!
You can keep the kimono for the entire day and take photos in the most beautiful temples of Kyoto such as the Kyomizu-dera, Fushimi-Inari or the Kinkyaku-ji. Note you can also do this in the Asakusa district of Tokyo and go to the Senso-ji Temple.
8 – Being blow away by the Borderless digital exhibition, Odaiba, Tokyo
I’m not a massive fan of the district of Odaiba of Tokyo which is built on an artificial island, but this exhibition blew my mind. Somewhere between an arty experience and a new generation amusement park, the Teamlab Borderless exhibition takes you to a new dimension where you can play with digital and interactive art.
Make sure to plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before the opening time in the morning for a more enjoyable experience. You can spend the entire day inside if you want to experience everything fully. I recommend not missing the waterfall and the lamp room. The place is a maze, so take your time not to miss anything!
9 – Celebrate Hanami with a picnic under the cherry blossom trees
I understand now why everyone gets crazy about sakura, the celebrated little cherry flowers at Spring, usually on the first half of April. It is indeed beautiful, but it is also the peak touristic season from Tokyo to Kyoto.
When visiting Tokyo, The top spots to see the sakura are the Nakameguro River and Chidorigafuchi Green Way near the Imperial Palace. Get there early in the morning, or you can also visit these famous areas late at night as the spectacle is equally enchanting thanks to the lighting systems.
The sakura season is also the time of one of the most beloved events in Japan: Hanami. People gather for picnics during daytime or at night to share drinks and snacks if possible pink and sakura flavoured; You will find everything you need in all the supermarkets from the tarp to put on the grass to the delicious sakura mochis.
10 – Admiring the Autumn colours of the “momiji” maple leaves in Nikko
Even if the sakura season is delightful, Fall and the “momiji” season when the maple leaves turn bright red, and the ginkgo leaves turn bright yellow, is my absolute favourite season in Japan. Be careful with timing, in altitude, the season starts earlier so plan to go mid- October, but in places by the sea like Tokyo, it begins as late as the beginning of December.
I have spent days and days of photographing the Autumn leaves at any given opportunity as I found it mesmerising, especially at the beginning when you have a mix of green, yellow and red leaves. My top locations to see momiji leaves and take pictures were the Shinjuku Park and Koishikawa Garden in Tokyo, Yugawara in Kanagawa Prefecture and Shuzenji in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Still, Nikko and its UNESCO world heritage Toshogu Shrine was just another level of stunning as I visited it the beginning of November. The Shrine itself is mostly in a pine tree forest, but near the entrance, the Treasure Museum has a gorgeous garden full of maple trees. For the full autumn colours show in the wild, take the bus to Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Waterfalls. Note as it is higher in altitude (1269 m), you will need to get there earlier, mid to end of October.
11 – Meeting with the snow monkeys in Jigokudani Park, Nagano
If you are lucky to visit Japan in wintertime when snow falls on the Japanese Alps of the Nagano Prefecture, there is one place you must see: the Snow Monkey Jigokudani Park. While it takes several trains or buses to get there from Tokyo and a long walk along an icy trail for a total to 3 to 4 hours, seeing Japanese fluffy monkeys soaking in hot springs with snow all around is just so unique that you won’t regret it.
Take the opportunity to stay in the town of Yamanouchi at a traditional ryokan for a hot spring bath (for humans!) surrounded by snow, and taste some of the best sake, soba noodles and chestnuts from the area. By the way, don’t forget the snow monkey park is at 850 m of altitude.
12 – Comparing the best skyline views of Tokyo
Visiting one of the many Tokyo observatories should be on your list of places to visit in Tokyo even if you have only a short stopover.
Considering the number of free options, I don’t recommend Roppongi Hills (1800¥/2300¥) & Tokyo Sky Tree (2060¥/3090¥). I find their entrance cost outrageous. I went to the observatory of Roppongi Hills during my very first trip to Japan. I don’t think the view was that much incredible compared to the other places, including the free options of the Tokyo Metropolitan Towers or the Bunkyo Civic Centre which are already excellent viewpoints.
I recommend going to the World Trade Center in Hamamatsuchō (620¥ – about 5€): At the 40th floor, the Seaside Top observatory is the best view in town to see the Tokyo Tower in the middle of the skyline of Tokyo. The observation deck is stylish and comfortable. While the straight windows make a lot of reflection, it’s important to note it is one of the rare places where tripods are allowed.
13 – Ordering a matcha latte at a maid café in Akihabara, Tokyo
If you are a fan of mangas and/or video games, this is the place you need to go to while in Tokyo. Even, if you are not, the Akihabara district nicknamed the electrical town due to its numerous neon lights is still a fantastic area to visit, especially if this is your first time in Japan. Wonder around the electronics and manga-inspired goodies shops, before daring to push the door of the other speciality of Akihabara.
The Otaku Mecca is also famous for its maid cafés. At places such as @Home Café, you can enjoy all the most “kawaii” (cute) culture of Japan as girls dress up in cute maid costume serve adorable (but overpriced) food and drinks. Some people love it, others hate it. I can’t help, but I like the positive vibe of the place and the cute drawing on my hot matcha latte with J-pop music in the background.
14 – Swimming at the most beautiful beach in Japan, on Miyako Island
The sand is so white and thin, the water so clear and blue, that even if I could visit all the beaches around Japan, Yonaha Maehama Beach on the south shore of Miyakojima got to be the most fabulous beach where you can go swimming in Japan.
A hint that I may be right was to see newlyweds taking their wedding pictures every 15 minutes with the fabulous shades of blue and turquoise in the background.
15 – Learning Japanese in Japan at a language school
From 2018 to 2019, I have lived and been diving in Japan for a total period of 8 months. For 4 months, I went studying Japanese at a language school in Tokyo, which was a childhood dream. For a total cost of 2300€ (which was the cheapest, nor the most expensive), learning how to communicate autonomously in Japanese dramatically changed and improved my experience in Japan, since outside of big cities like Tokyo or Okinawa, very few people can speak English.
I can now book by email or phone, my hotel rooms and my dives all over Japan without help, and I can order all the best food at the best price in a restaurant while making new friends!
Are you looking for more inspiration for fun things to do in other safe travel destinations? If so, have a look at these additional pages:
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