ANA (All Nippon Airways) is Japan’s premium airline and flies to some 50 destinations across the country. That’s 50 opportunities to explore different perspectives on the Japanese experience, 50 opportunities to be surprised by the breadth of geography and culture to be found on this wild archipelago of volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, tropical beaches, and ancient forests.
Whether your travel style emphasizes outdoor adventure, art and history, culinary exploration, or recharging with a hot spring bath and some traditional hospitality, the 50 experiences below represent one incredible bucket list.
Huge bamboo poles hung with dozens of paper lanterns are paraded through the streets during this early-August festival. Weighing up to 125 pounds, each is carried by a single person, balanced on the hips, shoulders, or even forehead.
Gateway: Akita Airport (AXT)
On each night of this summer festival, spectacular lantern-floats up to 16 feet tall parade and spin through the city. Often depicting figures from myth, they’re made of wire and washi paper, some taking a full year to construct.
Gateway: Aomori Aiport (AOJ)
Asahiyama Zoo is one of Japan’s best. Housing mostly species suited to the cold Hokkaido climate, it’s particularly beloved for its popular daily penguin walk.
Gateway: Asahikawa Airport (AKJ)
These temporary food stalls are set up each evening all across the city, drawing local foodies and tourists alike. They were once common throughout Japan, but Fukuoka is one of the last cities where the stalls are still thriving.
Gateway: Fukuoka Airport (FUK)
Fukushima is one of Japan’s top onsen areas. A registered historic building, Higashiyama Onsen was established over 1,300 years ago and has been frequented by samurai and famous writers over the centuries.
Gateway: Fukushima Airport (FKS)
Hachijojima is a volcanic island that’s technically part of the Tokyo metropolis, but the scenery and attractions couldn’t be more different from those of the big city. You can stay at an onsen with an ocean view, hike through tropical forests, and snorkel or scuba dive to explore the incredible marine environment.
Gateway: Hachijojima Airport (HAC)
With its traditional samurai residences and a street layout that hasn’t changed since the Edo period, Hagi Castle Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While only ruins of the castle itself remain, a number of other well-preserved buildings are open to the public.
Gateway: Iwami Airport (IWJ)
This morning market near Hakodate’s main train station is the place to go for seafood fresh from the water and produce from local farms. Can’t cook it yourself? There are plenty of restaurants among the 250-some stalls serving Japanese breakfasts made from the vendors’ products.
Gateway: Hakodate Aiport (HKD)
Okonomiyaki is the soul food of Hiroshima, a savory pancake stuffed with ingredients and cooked in front of you on a griddle. New to okonomiyaki? Start at Okonomimura, where there are two dozen shops in one building, some with English menus.
Gateway: Hiroshima Airport (HIJ)
Feel what it’s like to fly on a paragliding tour. West Japan Outdoor School offers experiences for all ages — the whole family can take to the skies, including children 3 and up when accompanied by an adult.
Gateway: Kobe Airport (UKB)
There’s plenty of marine life to meet while snorkeling and diving around the coral reefs of the Yaeyama Islands, and you can see something truly special on the north side of Ishigaki Island. Manta rays gather here in large numbers in summer and early fall, giving this dive site its name: the Manta Scramble.
Gateway: New Ishigaki Airport (ISG)
This elegant arched pedestrian bridge made of wood and stone — originally built in 1673 — is even more picturesque when the nearby cherry trees bloom in spring, as well as during the fireworks festival in August.
Gateway: Iwakuni Kintaikyo Airport (IWK)
Ibusuki Onsen has plenty of the classic hot spring water baths, but it also offers something a bit more unusual. Sunamushi onsen, bathing in hot sand, is said to have many benefits for health and beauty.
Gateway: Kagoshima Airport (KOJ)
Kobe is surrounded by mountains, and while you can climb them, it’s far easier to grab amazing views of the city from the Shin-Kobe Ropeway. The Kikuseidai (translation: “where it is possible to catch the stars”) viewing platform on Mt. Maya has one of Japan’s top three night views.
Gateway: Kobe Airport (UKB)
Kochi is home to the only castle in Japan with original main buildings, not reconstructions. Its history dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, and it’s also renowned for the views you get from its hilltop location.
Gateway: Kochi Airport (KCZ)
Awazu Onsen is a hot spring resort village in Komatsu and the site of Hoshi Ryokan, likely the world’s second-oldest hotel. The ryokan was founded in the year 718 by the monk Taicho Daishi and has been run by the same family for an unfathomable 46 generations.
Gateway: Komatsu Airport (KMQ)
This garden was originally constructed in the 17th century. The design depicts, in miniature, the 53 stations of the Tokaido, one of the historical roads that connected Edo (Tokyo) with Kyoto, including a reproduction of Mt. Fuji.
Gateway: Kumamoto Airport (KMJ)
This national park, which protects Japan’s largest wetland and marsh habitat, is home to the country’s last remaining population of the endangered red-crowned crane, which you’re most likely to spot if you visit in winter.
Gateway: Kushiro Airport (KUH)
Dogo has been a popular hot spring resort for well over 1,000 years. The ornate main building of Dogo Onsen was installed in 1893 and inspired the look of the bathhouse in the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away.
Gateway: Matsuyama Airport (MYJ)
The whole of this island, a scenic ferry ride from Hachijojima Island, is part of a national park. You can see black-sand beaches and other natural features that tell of its volcanic origins and watch dolphins swimming off the nearby island of Mikurajima.
Gateway: Hachijojima Airport (HAC)
A tropical island lying between Okinawa and Ishigaki, Miyakojima has many beautiful beaches and plenty of electric-blue water. The best spot for snorkeling is said to be Yoshino Beach, thanks to its coral reefs full of active marine life.
Gateway: Miyako Airport (MMY)
The Sea of Okhotsk is the southernmost point where you can see drift ice from the Arctic. In Monbetsu, on the northern island of Hokkaido, hop aboard a sightseeing ship — equipped with a huge drill to break through the ice when needed — to witness this natural phenomenon.
Gateway: Monbetsu Airport (MBE)
The lookout on Mt. Inasa, towering above the city of Nagasaki, is ranked as one of Japan’s three best night views — and Japan has a lot of great night views. You can reach the summit by bus, car, or ropeway cable car.
Gateway: Nagasaki Airport (NGS)
Atsuta Horaiken has been in business since 1873 — not as old as the nearby Atsuta Shrine, which was founded 1,900 years ago, but pretty impressive for a restaurant! It’s recommended as the best place to try hitsumabushi, Nagoya’s signature grilled eel dish.
Gateway: Chubu Centrair International Airport (NGO)
With a name that means “international,” this is a major restaurant, entertainment, and shopping district. Eat, drink, hear live Okinawan music, and wander the traditional covered shopping arcades that branch off the main street.
Gateway: Naha Airport (OKA)
This feathery strip of land jutting out into the deep Nemuro Strait on the eastern side of Hokkaido provides a unique habitat for flora and fauna. Drive, walk, or cruise to see native wildlife, wildflowers, sunken forests, and views of the Shiretoko Mountains and Kunashiri Island.
Gateway: Nakashibetsu Airport (SHB)
For two days in March, sake lovers from around the world come to taste over 500 kinds of sake made by 90-some breweries based in Niigata, long considered Japan’s capital of rice, the beverage’s main ingredient.
Gateway: Niigata Airport (KIJ)
Rich with history, Udo Shrine is located in a spectacular setting on the coast south of Miyazaki City. Set in a cave on the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean, it’s dedicated to the father of the mythical first emperor of Japan.
Gateway: Miyazaki Airport (KMI)
Hike this UNESCO World Heritage Site to see unique natural wonders, including the largest virgin beech forest left in East Asia. Nearby is Lake Towada, which rests in two volcanic calderas — including the third-deepest in Japan.
Gateway: Odate-Noshiro Aiport (ONJ)
Beppu is one of the most famous onsen resort areas in Japan. Its combined hot springs produce more water than any other location in the country, and it offers a wide range of facilities and experiences, including natural steam baths and mud baths.
Gateway: Oita Airport (OIT)
Korakuen was established around 1700 and is considered one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens. Along with its traditional features, there are spacious lawns — unusual in Japanese gardens — and the site provides an excellent view of Okayama Castle.
Gateway: Okayama Airport (OKJ)
With this experience offered by a local tour operator, everything is provided to transform you into a mermaid, complete with tail, makeup, and bling! A professional will shoot your photo on a private beach on Cape Maeda, and then you’ll learn how to swim in the ocean like a mermaid.
Gateway: Naha Airport (OKA)
Osakans are famous for their passion for food, and they’ve been buying it here since the Edo Period. This 2,000-foot-long covered market contains around 150 shops selling meat, fish, produce, and other goods and is a great place to try all kinds of street food.
Gateway: Kansai International Airport (KIX)
From the summit of Mt. Rishiri, an extinct volcano, there’s an amazing view of the surrounding forests and wetlands and even of Russia’s Sakhalin Island to the north. Rent a bike and explore the 35-mile cycling trail that circles the island.
Gateway: Rishiri Airport (RIS)
Held along the Kase River in late October / early November, the Saga International Balloon Fiesta attracts hot air balloon teams from around the world. Hundreds launch early each morning and are lit at night by the flames of their burners.
Gateway: Kyushu Saga International Airport (HSG)
Just outside the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market, this row of around 80 shops specializes in fresh Hokkaido seafood and local produce. Sample the offerings with a seafood breakfast at one of the market’s restaurants.
Gateway: New Chitose Airport (CTS)
Zuihoden Mausoleum is the resting place of the powerful samurai lord Date Masamune, built in the style of the Momoyama Period with ornate woodwork painted in vivid colors.
Gateway: Sendai Airport (SDJ)
Japan’s tallest mountain, the iconic Mt. Fuji has attracted the imaginations of everyone from artists to climbers for centuries. The official climbing season runs from early July through mid-September if you want to give it a go.
Gateway: Shizuoka Airport (FSZ)
Relax and enjoy the pleasures of Japan’s four seasons in this hot springs resort area. Located on the island of Shikoku and surrounded by nature, Shionoe Onsen has been attracting soakers for 1,300 years, and its waters are renowned for their health benefits.
Gateway: Takamatsu Airport (TAK)
More than a million people gather every August to watch this traditional outdoor dance festival, which has been going strong for 400 years. Can’t come in August? See the troupes that perform year-round at the Awa Odori Hall.
Gateway: Tokushima Awaodori Airport (TKS)
Narita is much more than an airport! Walk along Narita Omotesando, a shopping street lined with vendors of crafts, souvenirs, traditional snacks, and Narita’s signature grilled eel. The street leads to Shinshoji Temple, founded in the year 940.
Gateway: Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT)
Just 30 minutes by train from Haneda Airport, Asakusa has been a center of entertainment for centuries. Walk along the Nakamise shopping street, lined with snack and souvenir shops, to Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple.
Gateway: Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND)
They’re Tottori’s most famous tourist attraction, and for good reason. Stretching along the coast for 10 miles, some of the dunes reach 160 feet in height. They’re continually reshaped by the winds, but the stunning ocean views remain the same.
Gateway: Tottori Airport (TTJ)
Take the Kurobe Gorge Railway for a scenic tour through one of the deepest gorges in Japan. Thanks to its 20-some bridges and twice that number of tunnels, breathtaking views of the rugged virgin forest are found at nearly every turn — try to time your visit for fall foliage season.
Gateway: Toyama Airport (TOY)
Nearly 90% of Tsushima Island is covered by mountain forest, making it home to some unique wildlife. Hike, birdwatch, and visit the conservation center for a rare chance to see the endangered Tsushima leopard cat.
Gateway: Tsushima Airport (TSJ)
Surrounding Lake Tokiwa, this park offers outdoor art, an amusement park, a plant museum, and a recently opened zoo with exhibits that do a fine job reproducing the natural habitats of wild Japan.
Gateway: Yamaguchi Ube Airport (UBJ)
It’s believed that Wajima’s Morning Market dates back over a thousand years. Buy produce (directly from the farmers who grow it) and fresh seafood, and check out the city’s unique local lacquerware.
Gateway: Noto Airport (NTQ)
Take in the view from the very northernmmost tip of the country at Cape Soya. In fine weather you can see the Russian island of Sakhalin, which was once part of Japan.
Gateway: Wakkanai Airport (WKJ)
These sacred mountains with shrines near their peaks represent birth, death, and rebirth in the Shugendo religion. Because of the snowy climate, visits are best between July and mid-September when all three are open to both pilgrims and tourists.
Gateway: Shonai Airport (SYO)
This rare saltwater hot spring resort area with over 20 bathhouses is set between Miho Bay and the majestic Mt. Daisen, providing beautiful, relaxing views of both the mountains and the sea.
Gateway: Yonago Airport (YGJ)