Japan: a place where sumo wrestling meets striking scenery - what's not to love? There's a whole lot to experience when you visit, so let's take a look at some of the best Japan tours to help you narrow it down!
Get a Foot Bath in Hell (Valley!)
Very aptly named, Hell Valley (Jigokudai) is a rather primeval-looking spot engulfed by hot, steamy air. Its breath-taking landscape is still being carved by volcanic activity - we're talking powerful steam vents and sulfurous streams! If you hike through the valley for around 25 minutes, you'll reach Oyunuma. This sulfurous pond is simmering away at a staggering 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Flowing from Oyunuma is a river; the water is still hot as it meanders through the forest, making for a truly sensational sight. Further downstream, where the water is cooler, you can even have a foot bath in the warm flowing stream!
It's free to enter Hell Valley. To get here, you can get a Japan tour which leaves from JR Noboribetsu Station, taking around 15 minutes. Most of these include a visit to the hot spring town in Noboribetsu, so bring your wet suit. You can also book a guided tour for your trip to learn more about Japan's very own 'Hell' on earth!
Be Awed by Nature in Nikko National Park
Renowned for amazing botanical gardens and the majestic Toshogu Shrine, Nikko National Park is a nature-lover's dream. It's also ideal for those of you happy to don a pair of hiking boots! In addition to temples and shrines, you can explore towering bridges, two spectacular waterfalls, and numerous lakes. Combined with the fact that the park is nestled amidst huge mountains, it's not hard to see why cameras are essential!
Nikko National Park is approximately 75 miles from Tokyo, so Japan holiday tour packages will probably take you here by train. This takes around two hours and you’ll need to get off at Nikko or Tobu-Nikko station. You’ll be able to enter the parks for free upon arrival, but your tour package most likely won’t cover the cost of entrance to any temples or shrines you want to explore whilst you're here. You can enter these for a small additional fee (and we highly recommend doing just that, as they're superb!).
Soak in the Hot Springs of Hoheikyo
Who doesn't love a soak in the tub? Well, at Hoheikyo Onsen, things get even better. You'll be soaking al-fresco in gorgeous hot springs, surrounded by a backdrop of pines and peaks. These geothermal springs are situated in the depths of a jaw-dropping mountain canyon - perfect if you love getting into the wilderness!
The springs area just an hour’s drive from Sapporo. You can get a return day-trip bus ticket which includes admission to the baths and, while you’re here, you can also explore the stunning Toyohira River by canoe or raft. If a day of full-on relaxation is more your thing, you can book in for a massage at the hot springs instead - pure bliss! We recommend that you visit in fall to see a sea of autumnal colors. Or if you’re not afraid of dashing for the hot-springs in the cold (brr!), try heading here in winter for a snowy retreat!
Get Caught Up at the Stomping Ground of Champions
You're quite used to seeing WWF wrestlers (rather dramatically pretending to) throw their weight around in the ring, right? But trust us, you've never seen anything quite like sumo wrestling. This grunting power-house of a sport is the real deal - period! In fact, it's Japan's most popular sport, and is a traditional part of the country's ancient culture - making it a must-see for your trip.
There's no better place to experience this formidable feat of foes than the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium and Museum. Most tours give you the opportunity to ride the subway to the sumo amphitheater, known as 'Kokugikan'. Once there, you'll be thrown in to the atmospheric sumo match - not literally, thankfully! Depending on the tour you go for, you can generally find hotel pick ups and drop offs from the subway, and you'll be accompanied by a local guide for peace of mind. The matches can get pretty intense - think soccer, but more aggressive!
See the Swagger of Emperors Past at Kyoto's Nijo-Jo Castle
A sort of 'swagger' move, this striking castle was designed to demonstrate utter power. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who built it in 1603, wanted to be seen to be rich and prestigious! Now open to the general public, the formidable stone walls, art work, and gorgeous cherry-tree gardens make the castle one of the most picturesque sites to see in Kyoto.
The palace houses ingenious 'nightingale floors,' which were designed to make a chirping sound when stepped upon (hence the name!). This would notify guards of any intruders. Today, you won't need to worry about being collared by guards for wandering the hallways of the castle - so long as you've paid your admission fee... Many Kyoto tour packages include entrance to Nijo-Jo Castle, with it being just a five-minute walk from Nijojo-Mae Station via the Tozai subway line.
Gawp at the Legendary Mt. Fuji (Climbing Not Essential - Phew!)
Perhaps the most iconic landmark in all of Japan, Mount Fuji stands at an impeccable 3,776 meters (12,388 feet) tall. Although over one million brave tourists hike to the top of Japan's tallest mountain every year, you certainly don't have to do this to appreciate its beauty. Thank goodness - we get dizzy just thinking about it...
Set 62 miles from Tokyo, you can book a tour which will take you to the base of this towering mountain. Then you'll head onward to Lake Ashi and Hakone National Park. The best Japan tours even offer a cruise onto the dazzling lake for panoramic views of Mt Fuji - make sure to have your camera at the ready for this one! You'll then be spirited back to Tokyo via the evening bullet train.
Get Confused by The Robot Restaurant
You're thinking, 'I wonder why it's called the Robot Restaurant,' right? Well, take it very literally. If you're looking for a futuristic cabaret experience (yes, it's as weird as it sounds), a trip to this surreal restaurant is a must for you. Located in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district and taking modernity to the absolute max, this sci-fi style restaurant has it all. Think flashing lights, real robots, mirror illusions, thumping techno music and, of course, Japanese dancers...
Definitely not one for the faint-hearted, this place is ideal for those who love all things bold. The 90-minute show is tradition-turned-contemporary, and is truly is unlike anything you've ever seen - or ever will again (we can vouch for that!). Japan tours generally offer packages which include tickets to the show, along with dinner at a local eatery. Oh, and don't just try to rock up without booking - weird though it may sound, the Robot Restaurant is getting increasingly popular so, chances are, you'll be turned away.
See How the Other Half Live at the Emperor's Imperial Palace
As the primary residence of Japan's Emperor, Tokyo's grand Imperial Palace is located in the heart of the city. Though you can't actually enter the palace interior or all of the grounds (it is the Emperor's private pad, after all!), you can wander in the East Gardens. This is also where the original Edo Castle once stood, so you can also see the remaining ruins too.
Since this is more of a quick stop, most Japan holiday tour packages will include admission to the Imperial Palace Grounds as part of their 'overall' Tokyo city tours. You'll also be able to see other attractions, such as a visit to the State Guest House, the Asakusa district, and National Diet Building. P.S. Keep it a secret but, if you're really keen to see more of the palace grounds, head here during Sakuram (the spring cherry blossom season). More of the grounds are open during this season to showcase the ancient trees in bloom, but it's a pretty badly kept secret, so there's usually more crowds!
Get a Glimpse into Hiroshima’s Past
We can all agree that no visit to Japan would be complete without a trip to Hiroshima! Now thankfully a beautifully restored city of total tranquility, it wasn't always this way. To most of us, the city’s name still brings to mind thoughts of that truly tragic day when, in August 1945, it was hit by the atom bomb.
Today, your expedition to this timeless city will usually begin with a trip to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park & Museum, and Children’s Peace Memorial. You’ll also get the chance to gaze in awe at the A-Bomb Dome, the only remaining bomb-damaged building. Depending on what you want to see, tours can also include a trip to Miyajima Island by ferry. Here, you can take some time to explore picture-perfect forests and uncover fabulous ancient temples.
Gaze Upon Gold at Kinkaku-Ji
Japan is renowned for its extraordinary artistry and, unsurprisingly, the architecture is no different! As one of Kyoto's most famous temples, Kinkaku-Ji (known as the Golden Pavilion) is a true wonder to behold. The classic-style pagoda, which is three stories tall, is adorned with glistening gold leaf. As if that wasn't amazing enough, the temple also appears to hover over the lake like a mirage. Set against a backdrop of ancient green pines, the reflection of Kinkaku-Ji in the water beneath creates a jaw-dropping illusion that will leave you doubting whether you're seeing straight!
Sadly, the original pagoda which was built in 1397 was destroyed by an accidental fire in 1950. However, this replica is still an astonishing feat of architecture! Most tour packages offer time to wander the peaceful stone and water gardens surrounding the temple, with many encompassing Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe via bus. You'll have the opportunity to explore other sites too, such as Nara Todaiji Temple and Park, and the Kobe MOSAIC.