Japan is one of the weirdest places on Earth. This highly modern but simultaneously ancient land has just about everything you could possibly want out of a country, and so much more. There are many spots in Japan that are unlike anywhere else in the world.
Some of these places are adorable animal sanctuaries, some are the stranger neighborhoods of Tokyo, and some are just beautiful natural views of this fascinating country. This list delves into twenty-five of the strangest, most ridiculous places that would, of course, only be in Japan.
If you’ve ever been in this magical country than chances are you have been to several of these sights and if not, then Japan should be on the top of just about anyone’s dream vacation list. Hopefully, we can give you a few more reasons to check out this wacky land across the sea.
25 Aoshima - Cat Island
A purely Japanese phenomenon, there are several islands across the country that have the distinction of having higher populations of cats than people. Aoshima Island is the best known of these islands. The 100+ cats easily outnumber the dozen or so people on the island, but there has been a significant increase in tourism over the last few years.
These furry residents have taken a notice to the increase in people willing to give them treats and tend to crowd up by the dock to welcome newcomers.
24 Nagoro Island - Kinda Creepy, Kinda Awesome?
Shikoku Island has become famous for the small village of Nagoro, notable for the 350+ scarecrows across the island. One woman named Tsukimi Ayano has been spending her days creating these ‘replacements’ for old residents who have either passed away or have moved from the village, now with a population of about 30.
The village has recently seen a small boom in tourism as a direct result of this new personality trait.
23 Nakagin Capsule Tower - Architecture From The Future
This strange, multi-use tower was designed and built in the early 1970s in Japan’s brief Metabolism period. This is one of the few buildings that was actually designed and built during this time in this style that has survived until today. The tower was built in a mere 30 days and the 13 floors hold office spaces and about thirty full apartments.
If you’re interested, you can still rent out an apartment in this strange-looking tower from a 1940s sci-fi writer’s vision of 2000.
22 Kitsune Mira - Fox Village
In Miyagi prefecture, there is a small village that you can enter for about $1, full of foxes. These adorable critters have largely been rescued and the Zao Village provides them with sanctuary. Visiting the village, you’ll be able to see these foxes play (and sometimes fight, especially if you feed them). This is certainly one of the cutest places on the planet and is my personal favorite of the ‘random adorable animal sanctuaries’ across Japan.
21 Fushimi-Inari - Thousands Of Orange Shrines
The Fushimi-Inari shrine is one of the most easily recognizable places in Japan. The 10,000+ Torii gates are easily recognizable thanks to their bright orange hue. These gates will lead you up the three-kilometer path to the top of the shrine, which is one of the most important and heavily visited in the whole country.
There are also a variety of street vendors at the bottom of the shrine that sell some of the best food you will ever have for $3-4.
20 Jigokudani Monkey Park
The Joshinetsu Kogen National Park sits in the Yokoyu River Valley and is covered in dark, cold forests. One small section of the park is well-known for its large population of wild Japanese macaques or snow monkeys that travel here in the colder months to bathe in the onsens (Japanese natural hot springs).
The monkeys have recently become protected by the park rangers so they just hang out in the onsens all year now, being fed by the park rangers.
19 Pachinko Parlors - Sensory Overload
In America, we have arcades which is pretty much as close to Pachinko Parlors as we can get. An arcade is nothing like a Pachinko Parlor though. These rooms are packed with gaming consoles and arcade games and they are extremely popular. Walking around in one, this is pretty much the image you get—a bunch of teens and young adults, staring at a screen for hours straight.
Time slips by, you forget about food and the outside world. Pachinko Parlors are intensely overwhelming, unlike any arcade you’ve ever seen.
18 Shibuya Crossing - The world's busiest intersection
You’re not very likely to get a lot of recommendations to travel to a traffic intersection. Shibuya might be the one exception in the rule for that. It will rival any sight in New York, London, and Paris and probably gets more foot traffic every day than any place in any of those cities.
The Starbucks that sits on the intersection is the largest in the world and if you’re looking for a tear-jerker, look into the story of Hachikō the dog, whose statue sits right on the street here.
17 Akihabara - Electric Town
Akihabara is the most extreme assault on your senses that you’re likely to ever experience. This neighborhood is Tokyo is the physical manifestation of the Otaku culture of Japan.
Think every sci-fi movie and anime ever made thrown together, covered in flashing lights. Whatever block you go down will be full of multi-storied game shops, bookstores, sex shops, pachinko parlors, and maid cafés. Whatever you choose to do here, you certainly won’t ever be bored.
16 Nara - When Deers Attack
If you’re not afraid of deer yet, then a quick trip to Nara will set you straight. These little monsters live around the park here and their goal in life is to kill you. You can buy little packets of food to feed them, but be careful because you can easily lose control of the situation and find yourself sprinting away from half a dozen deer, chasing you down, 100% willing to bite your finger off.
15 Cat Cafés - Japan's Cutest Export
One of Japan’s most recent imports to explode in popularity, the humble Cat Café is pretty much what you would expect. You pay a fee at the door which generally buys you a drink and lets you hang out in a café-sized space, filled with cats. What’s not to like?
There are plenty of them through Tokyo that are worth a visit and the quiet is generally a nice reprieve from the bombastic city.
14 Nakano Broadway - A City Inside
Nakano Broadway is no place for claustrophobes. This large, multi-storied shopping complex has hundreds of stores. If you’re interested in anything anime or manga, this just might be the best place in the whole world to find what you’re looking for. There is also a full grocery store in the basement, making Nakano Broadway essentially its own city. This also extends into the street leading up to the indoor shopping complex as well.
13 Okinoshima - It's A Man's Island
This small island off the coast of mainland Japan is deeply important to the Shinto religion but is mostly notable for its lack of women. In fact, women aren’t even allowed on the island. There has never been any recorded evidence that any woman has ever even set foot on the island. Very few outsiders have ever been allowed on the island, so I wouldn’t bank on being able to visit it.
12 Pokémon Centre - Yeah, They're Real
If you’ve ever played a Pokémon game, wishing you could explore that world, then I’ve got good news for you. There are several of these stores, mainly across Japan that sell exclusively Pokémon goodies. You’ll find things you can’t get anywhere else in the world along with getting exclusive promotions and access to arcade games you can’t play anywhere outside of Japan.
This is easily one of the most worthwhile stops in the country if you’ve ever played a Pokémon game.
11 Hiroshima - Peace Park
First of all, yes. Hiroshima is still standing. Not only that, but it is still a major city in Japan with over a million people. Unfortunately, the city will always be first and foremost associated with the bombing in WWII, however, Hiroshima has very gracefully kept on. Most of the city is pretty normal, visually unaffected by the past, but the Peace Park fully embraces what happened and works to show not only the tragedy of the event, but how we learn and grow from tragedy.
10 Bullet Trains - Watch The View Speed Past
Japan is widely known as one of the most efficient societies in the world and their state-of-the-art bullet trains are the perfect proof. These 200-mph trains traverse a large part of the country and pass from city to city, through small villages, mountains, and forests.
The train South from Tokyo passes by Mount Fuji, pictured above, zooming past the small suburban and rural villages on the Eastern coast of Japan.
9 Miyajima - A Slice Of Paradise
Not too far away from Hiroshima, there is a small island a mile off the shore of mainland Japan. Miyajima is most famous for the shrine popping out of the water, but this small island has so much more. While there is a small village on the shore, most of the island is an uninhabited forest. There are hundreds of deer across the island that coexist peacefully with the residents and walk around the beaches and forests.
8 Tsukiji/Toyosu - Fish Market
Until its recent closing, Tsukiji Fish Market was one of the most famous places in the food world. The market was moved earlier this year to a new location called Toyosu, but is just as massive and structurally necessary for the world’s fish market.
According to Bloomberg, there are over $5.4 billion in value that goes through the market every single year, and about $14 million worth of product is sold on a daily basis. This market has been a go-to destination for food tourists for decades.
7 Nijo Castle - A Ninja's Nightmare
150 years before the United States declared independence from England, Nijō Castle was completed in modern-day Kyoto, Japan. This castle sits in the middle of Kyoto and has become a fairly popular historical destination.
It was a fairly famous castle back in the day, largely because of the protective measures that were built into it. The coolest of these are the nightingale floors (that are still there) which are designed to squeak at random, ruining any chance of a ninja sneaking up and ruining your day.
6 Tea Ceremonies - The Most Calming Adventure
One of the most essential aspects of Japanese culture to imbibe in while in the country is a good ole’ fashioned tea ceremony. This is done by an expert who has likely been doing this all of their life and it is an immense pleasure to see someone in their element like this. The process is so meticulous, so exact, that it becomes a mesmerizing experience. This is an experience that you absolutely will not get anywhere else in the world.
5 Hida - Folk Village
If you want to know what Japan was like 200 years ago, conveniently enough, there’s a place for that! Hida folk village is just outside of Takayama and is a dedicated place for historical artifacts and looking back towards what life was like in the past. Hida is meant to resemble a standard farming village and is full of activities and folk art surrounding a small lake in the middle of the quiet replica village.
4 Festival Floats - A One-Of-A-Kind Museum
Takayama has been historically well-known across the country for centuries because of the Takayama Matsuri festival held twice a year. The town designed and built these floats for the ceremonies throughout the years and many have thankfully survived up until today. They now sit in a museum dedicated to the festivals. The Japanese are fairly into their own forms of pomp & circumstance and these floats certainly prove that.
3 Takayama - Historic Village
Takayama is a city in central Japan, tucked away in between mountains and forests. The city stayed isolated for much of its history and even today, you’ll need to take a bullet train through rivers and forests to reach the city. Large parts of it are steeped in history and it would certainly be an ideal place to go if you’re interested in exploring nature.
The city sits at the base of a fairly large mountain with a park on top (I should know. I accidentally climbed down the mountain into the wrong town and had to walk three hours back to my hostel).
2 Takeshita Boulevard - Shopping Central
If you’re looking for what will be ‘in’ a year from now, Takeshita Boulevard is the place to go. This section of Tokyo is largely made up of small, independent shops popular with the youths. There are all kinds of shops and restaurants, many with unique, one-of-a-kind gifts that you can purchase along with some forward-thinking fashion boutiques.
This festive street will definitely be worth a visit and can easily take up a decent chunk of time.
1 Kiyomizu-dera - Not For Those Afraid Of Heights
The Kiyomizu-dera is one of the most popular Buddhist temples across the country and is well-known for its tedious edge. The small walkout out near the top of the temple (pictured above) absolutely looks like it’s going to fall over when too many people are standing on it. The rest of the temple is full of beautiful pagodas and scenic walkways through the nearby forests culminating in a series of bridges that you need to climb to get back down to the ground.