What is Japan famous for? Quite a lot of things actually. There are many things that this stunning country in East Asia is known for, from the iconic Mount Fuji to the notorious Yakuza.
And if you ask your friends, you will almost always get a different answer – it will depend on what that person is most interested in. This is why I’ve tried to compile a pretty detailed but neutral list with a bit of everything – forms of art, clothing, landmarks, foods and so much more.
So, read on to find out which 20 things Japan is most famous for!
Mount Fuji is the highest volcano in Japan, and one of the most famous sights in this country. It is best known for its symmetrical cone, which is covered in snow approximately five months out of the year. And it is considered a symbol of Japan, which is why it is often featured in photographs and other art relating to this stunning country.
Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains – the other two are Mount Tate and Mount Haku. And it is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The volcano is surrounded by lakes and gorgeous, untouched nature. It is definitely worth visiting if you’re ever in the country – the view of Mount Fuji is so breathtaking that even UNESCO agreed it has been inspiring poets and artists for centuries.
Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower not just in Japan, but in the entire world. With a height of 634 meters, the neo-futuristic broadcasting tower is unmistakable in the Tokyo skyline.
There are two observation decks in the tower; one is at 350 meters, and the other is at 450 meters. Both offer an amazing panoramic view of Tokyo and have a total capacity of almost 3000 people. A visit to Tokyo Skytree is something you can’t skip if you’re in this city, as well as something you will remember for the rest of your life.
You can also download an app for your phone, which lets you know what Tokyo buildings and landmarks you are looking at from the Skytree. This is pretty useful for those of you who are like me and don’t have the best sense of direction.
Japan is known for its amazing railway network and the number of people that ride the trains on a daily basis. If you’re ever in the country, you will probably get to ride at least one of the Shinkansen trains – the remarkably fast bullet trains, which can reach speeds well over 300 km/h.
There are a total of nine Shinkansen lines that take you to various parts of the country. The two most popular lines are the Hokkaido Shinkansen and the Tokaido Shinkansen. And if you get a Japan Railway Pass, you will have unlimited access to these trains for a certain period of time. Which is the cheapest way to explore this stunning country.
Bullet trains are undoubtedly the fastest way to get from one city to another, as they are 2-3 times faster than cars. But they are also notorious for crowds – you’ve probably seen at least one video of people spilling out of the trains.
Japan is pretty famous for its tea ceremonies, known as Way of Tea. They include ceremonial preparation and presentation of Matcha – powdered green tea. Tea ceremonies are very important to Japanese culture – it is not actually about drinking tea, but rather about the movement of preparing it, and focusing all your attention on it. Even the placement of the utensils is very important.
The tea ceremony is largely associated with Kyoto, but you can find tea houses throughout the country, both in urban city centres as well as countryside towns.
Tea houses are actually called chashitsu, and they were originally built by monks as a gathering place for this ceremony. They are prominent for the sliding wooden doors, tatami mat floors and shōji windows.
Geisha are a big part of Japanese tradition and culture, and something that the country is definitely famous for. They are women who entertain through various forms of art, singing and dancing. Many modern geishas live in geisha houses called okiya, especially during their training.
They traditionally wear kimonos and Oshiroi makeup. Oshiroi literally stands for white powder, which refers to the very pale complexion of geisha. Geisha also wear a type of wooden sandals that resemble flip flops, known as geta. But not all geisha wear these – maiko (geisha in training) wear geta that have no teeth on the bottom, and they are called okobo.
There is a misconception in the Western world that geisha are the Eastern equivalent of prostitutes – they are not. This is mostly because of interactions with oiran courtesans, who wore clothes and makeup similar to those of geisha.
Japanese calligraphy is another famous thing from Japan. It is a form of artistic writing of the Japanese language, and it is also known as shodo.
There are two types of symbols in Japanese calligraphy – Kana and Kanji. Kana represent syllables, and don’t have any specific meaning. Kanji are a lot more complex, as they are symbols for words – there are over 10,000 of them, and each one has a specific meaning.
There are courses that teach you Japanese calligraphy all over the world, but if you want to experience the real thing then head to the source.
Origami is another type of art that Japan is famous for. It is the art of folding paper, and it’s something people do all over the world but that originated in Japan. Learning this form of art allows you transform a single square of paper into a beautiful sculpture, with nearly endless possibilities.
Japan is very well known for its cafes. There are loads of them throughout the country, but they are definitely the most popular in Tokyo. And if spending a few hours (or days) in a cafe, surrounded by fluffy and cuddly furballs sounds good to you, then this should be on the top of your list.
Nowadays, you can go to a cat cafe in pretty much any part of the world. But that would not have been possible without their influence in Tokyo – even though the first cat cafe in the world was opened in Taiwan, they didn’t really become popular worldwide until they took off in Tokyo.
And that happened because most apartments in Tokyo don’t actually allow pets. So, cat cafes were a great opportunity for people to spend some time with these loving animals, which are scientifically proven to reduce stress and make you happier.
Japan is famous worldwide for all of its Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples. There are tens of thousands of them throughout the country, and they are such an integral part of Japanese culture and tradition.
Here’s a fun fact – even though they are referred to as Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples, both constructions are actually temples.
They are both places of worship; the main difference is the religion that they belong to. Shrines and temples also differ in appearance – shrines are preceded by a gate (Torii), which are usually red. Temples also have gates, but they are more complicated than those of shrines.
And of course, there’s the fact that Shinto actually originated in Japan, while Buddhism originated in India and China. But, both are stunning examples of sacred architecture, and well worth your time.
Japan is a volcanically active country, so it has lots of springs with geothermally heated groundwater – hot springs. The Japanese term is an onsen, and it also extends to communal baths and ryokans with hot springs.
Onsens are traditionally located outdoors, but nowadays you can find plenty of indoor ones throughout the country. You can find most of these in areas close to volcanoes, especially around Mt. Fuji and Mt. Hakone.
An interesting (and potentially useful) fact about onsens is that around half of them ban people with tattoos. This was an attempt to keep out Yakuza members, as they are known for being heavily tattooed. So, if you have ink on you, you will need to do some research in order to find a tattoo-friendly hot spring.
Or just Japanese food in general. But Sushi and Ramen are two things that have become insanely popular worldwide, even though they’re usually just interpretations of the original thing. Yes, store-bought ramen packs I’m looking at you.
So, if you like Japanese cuisine, you can’t leave the country without going to at least one proper restaurant. The good news is that there are thousands of them throughout the country, so finding a highly rated one will not be an issue.
Sake is another thing Japan is famous for – rice wine is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the country. Around the world you can find it in sushi restaurants, but did you know that it was originally not to be paired with sushi? Both are made with rice, and this was considered a big no. Boy how the times have changed!
Japan is pretty famous for its insane vending machines. From pretty normal ones that give you frozen Coca Cola, to those that give you fresh underwear. There is even a puppy and kitten vending machine – the animals are kept in boxes, and you can buy them by inserting money in the machine. Don’t worry, it’s nowhere near as claustrophobic as a normal vending machine.
Compared to those last two, the rest of them seem pretty tame. Other things you can get from vending machines in Japan include flowers, hamburgers, fresh fruits, eggs, hot meals, fortunes (yup), lobsters, party decorations, ties and so much more.
In medieval and early-modern Japan, Samurai were warriors. They were also the leading military officers, and over time they became the highest ranking social caste. Samurai used all kinds of weapons, but the sword was their main one and it remains a symbol of them.
Samurai are a very important part of Japanese tradition and culture. If you’re ever in Tokyo, you can learn a lot about their history in the Samurai Museum. You will also have the opportunity to dress up in Samurai costumes here, as well as engage in sword fights.
But, the ancient Japanese warriors are not only popular for their high rankings in pre-modern times. They are very important in pop culture, with loads of cartoons, comics and video games based on them. I grew up watching Samurai Jack on Cartoon Network, and I’m sure lots of you will also remember this awesome cartoon.
Ninjas are very popular in pop culture, but it’s hard to forget where they originate from. Today they are depicted as skilled warriors who are able able to move without making a sound, which is pretty far from the truth.
In fact, the perception of ninjas in pop culture is due to various myths and legends, in which they were assigned all kinds of inhuman abilities. Those include walking on water, invisibility and control over natural elements.
The true ninja was actually a covert agent or a mercenary in feudal Japan. And the job description of a ninja included espionage, surprise attacks and deception. You can learn a lot about them in the Ninja Museum of Igaryu – the most famous Japanese museum dedicated to Ninja history.
Cherry blossoms are an integral part of Japan landscape. The country is full of these beautiful trees, and they are actually considered the (unofficial) national flower of Japan.
There are several species of cherry blossoms, but the Japanese cherry (Sakura) is by far the most popular one. You can find these flowers anywhere in the country – from parks in the center of Tokyo to the mountainside. A particularly popular tourist attraction is the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto – a stone path lined with hundreds of cherry trees on either side.
The flowers blossom in the spring, and that’s when they look the best. If you really want to experience the beauty of these trees, it’s best to visit Japan in spring.
Capsule hotels are insanely popular with tourists in Japan. The entire “room” is the length and width of a single bed – if you’ve seen Maniac on Netflix, then you have an idea what I’m talking about. The “rooms” are usually equipped with a TV, AC and power sockets. Showers, toilets and dining rooms are communally shared, and your belongings are kept in a locker.
The main benefit of this claustrophobic accommodation is the price – capsule hotels are very cheap, and a good way to experience Japan on a budget.
But Japan is also very popular for Ryokans, which are much more comfortable and spacious. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns, and they are most often found in rural areas. Baths and toilets are also communal in these inns, but the rooms are much larger. And, in towns like Koyasan, you can stay in a Ryokan that is located inside a Buddhist temple, which is an amazing experience on its own.
In the last few years, kimonos have become more and more popular in the fashion industry. Or rather kimono-like garments – the true kimono is a traditional, T-shaped Japanese garment. There are lots of variations when it comes to the length of the kimono and its sleeves, but it is usually at least ankle length, with sleeves up to your wrists.
Actually, the sleeve length of a kimono can tell you a lot about a woman – single women usually wear kimonos (Furisodo) with floor-length sleeves, while married women wear Tomesode, which has shorter sleeves.
Kimonos are usually tied at the waist with an obi (sash), and knotted in the back. They are worn even today, by both women and men, most often for special occasions like weddings, tea ceremonies etc.
People who wear kimonos on a daily basis nowadays are mostly older Japanese men and women, geishas and sumo wrestlers. In fact, sumo wrestlers are required to wear them whenever they have a public appearance.
Japan is pretty famous for its comics and cartoons, known as Manga and Anime. Not only are they popular forms of entertainment worldwide, but you can also find all kinds of memorabilia relating to them in various stores throughout the country.
Comics and graphic novels known as Manga originate from Japan but are insanely popular worldwide. They include a very broad range of genres and are translated into many other languages. And they conform to a style that was developed in Japan in the 19th century.
Make no mistakes – Manga comics are a multi-billion dollar industry in Japan, and a multi-million dollar industry in Europe, the USA, Canada and the Middle East.
Anime, on the other hand, are hand-drawn animations that originate from Japan. The word anime means animation, and so it includes all kinds of animated media, from cartoons and TV shows. This medium focuses on realism and animation of movement and tells part of the story with cinematography and characterization.
It is interesting that Westerners generally view Anime as something strictly Japanese. However, the definition of anime is such that it can include shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and Family Guy – just something to think about.
Cosplaying is the art of dressing up as characters from books, comics, anime, cartoons, manga and video games. It is very popular at video game conventions and events like Comic-Con.
Today, cosplay is something that’s popular in all parts of the world. But it originated in Japan – in fact, the word cosplay was coined in Japan in the 80s. And you can find shops that sell cosplay clothes throughout the country – even if you’re not that into dressing up as your favorite character, this is a cool opportunity to pick up memorabilia that will remind you of them.
Takeshita street in the Harajuku district of Tokyo is very popular for its vast choice of cosplay shops. As is the Don Quijote in Akihabara – the huge department store has an entire floor full of cosplay outfits, and it’s a must-see.
Sumo is a type of full-contact wrestling that originated in Japan. And it is the only country where it can be practiced professionally even today, despite all the controversies that surround it.
Sumo wrestlers are usually required to live in communal training stables, and most aspects of their lives are dictated by tradition. This includes everything from what they can eat, to what they have to wear when in public.
If you’re ever in Japan, definitely try to get a ticket for a Sumo match. The sport is popular not just in this country but worldwide, and there’s nothing like watching a match live.
Shibuya Crossing is the busiest intersection in the entire world and one of Tokyo’s most famous sights. Even if you don’t exactly know what Shibuya Crossing is, chances are you’ve already seen it in a movie. It is featured in most movies set in Tokyo – Lost in Translation and Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift are the two most famous ones.
It is a must-see if you are ever in this stunning city. And it’s something you can hardly miss if you want to explore Shibuya City since it marks the entrance in this ancient Tokyo district.
Shibuya Crossing is actually an excellent embodiment of Tokyo – crowds coming from every direction, surrounded by skyscrapers with huge TV screens. And bright neon lights everywhere, regardless of the time of day.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.