8 Of The Most Amazing Places To Visit In Japan That Will Blow Your Mind
Japan is an absolutely incredible country and there is no denying that, and if anyone tells you differently they are lying! From their incredible cherry blossoms to their seaside towns and mountain ranges, Japan truly has everything an outdoor lover could want. Sure their outdoor wonders are some of the best places to visit in Japan, but so are their incredible cities.
Major cities like Tokyo and Osaka single-handedly show you just how welcoming, warming, and beautiful mega-cities can truly be. There’s really no wonder as to why you see so much iconic imagery come out of Japan, the entire country is iconic! I can honestly say that next to New Zealand, Japan is one of the best countries I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, and I cannot wait to return!
I was pleasantly surprised at just how diverse the country actually is. There is this incredibly perfect balance between the hustle and bustle of the city and the peace and quiet of the countryside, all of which are within only a few hours distance from one another. And if you want to leave the city and head to somewhere like number 5 on our list, it’s as simple as catching the world famous bullet train or taking a few connecting trains.
Honestly, I could go on and on about just how beautiful this small (but very populated) country is, but it wouldn’t even be half as incredible as it is if it wasn’t for the Japanese people. These people are some of the nicest people I have ever encountered on my travels, whoever said Canadians were the nicest certainly hadn’t met the Japanese!
Among the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Japan and among some of the best cities to visit in Japan and Japan tourist spots are the locals. These are the people who make our experiences as tourists even more fulfilling and pleasurable. But they don’t just do things like; serve you with a smile, try their best to speak English with you, guide you along the streets of Japan pointing out some of the places to see in Japan, or keep the streets free of garbage because of tourists visiting.
They do these things because they are values that are ingrained in their culture and tradition. Values of humility, kindness, peace, respect and most of all politeness are present in everyone you will meet as you travel to Japan. Sure Japan tourist spots are incredible, there is absolutely no doubt about that, but so are the people.
I don’t know about you but when I travel the people can really make or break a country and it is one aspect I always and mindful of when in a foreign place. If the people are miserable and disrespectful it doesn’t feel welcoming and makes nearly anything else I do or see invaluable to me. I don’t just travel to see the incredible places around the world, I want to meet the people, get to know them and figure out exactly what makes them and their country what they are.
After getting to experience the incredible hospitality of the Japanese people it made all of their cities and landscapes just that much better. Now, these 8 places to visit in Japan are just starting to scratch the surface what makes Japan absolutely mind-blowing. But if you are on a short time frame and want to see and get the most out of your trip to Japan, these 8 places to visit in Japan are the perfect starting point.
Expect along the way to fall in love with places you wouldn’t expect yourself to fall in love with (Number 7 on our list was one of those for me). Because even though all the rumours you’ve heard about how amazing Japan is are true, you still may find yourself surprised!
Honestly, I knew that I would like Tokyo but I didn’t expect to completely fall in love with it. The thought of being in a Metropolis that’s greater area literally has the population of my entire country is a little bit nerve-wracking. Regardless of how big I thought the city would be, it felt small and quaint with a little bit of a homey feel.
If you’re thinking, lady you are crazy Tokyo is a hustling and bustling MEGACITY, you’re right it is and I won’t deny that fact that there are TONS of people, absolutely everywhere. But never once did I feel unsafe (even walking alone by myself at night), out of place, or uncomfortable about my surroundings. So what makes Tokyo one of the best places to visit in Japan? Well, the fact that it is a large metropolis means it is extremely diverse, it literally has anything and everything another could want.
One of the most popular Japan tourist attractions is in the heart of Tokyo in the downtown district of Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s most popular sightseeing areas. Asakusa is home to the famed Sensoji Temple, the great paper lantern Kaminarimon, unique shopping centres like Nishi Sando, the famous Skytree and so much more.
Want to go shopping in one of the most fashion-forward districts in the world? Head over to Tokyo’s Harajuku district, where there are hundreds of shops along a narrow street. Beware though, among this street are also hundreds of people. There were so many people walking down the main street in Harajuku that police were sectioning off groups of people to help the flow of traffic!
If you’re still not fully satisfied and want more shopping and a little more hustle and bustle, head to Shibuya. Shibuya is home to the busiest crosswalk in the world, and if you think people are going to bump into you as you try and manoeuvre through the mayhem you’re wrong, it is truly organized chaos. The Shibuya crossing is also home to the Hachikō Statue, a statue of arguably the most loyal pet in the world.
Tokyo is also home to some of the most famous Japan tourist spots like the Imperial Palace, Tsukiji fish market, Disneyland and Disney Sea, Akihabara (known for its electronics), and many shrines like Meiji Shrine.
If you want to experience Japan in its entirety…go to Tokyo!
Takayama instantly became one of the best cities to visit in Japan for me. It’s incredible mountain views, adorable streets, perfectly beautiful buildings, quaint shops, kind people, and amazing food completely won me over. Not to mention it is located in the Hida region of Japan, so if you are looking for Japan tourist spots that are home to some of the best beef in the world, look no further than Takayama!
Honestly, I like to think parts of Takayama as a Japanese version of Banff Canada, while Banff is quite a bit smaller than Takayama the appeal in most of the city is very much the same. Takayama is one of the best places to visit in Japan or hikers who want to see the natural side of the country. It is a gateway to some of the best hikes in Japan along with some very well known mountain resorts and onsens (natural hot springs)!
Takayama in recent years has been climbing to the top of the list of places to visit in Japan for visitors looking to get a more rural escape and a look into what Japan looked like at the turn of the last century. Particularly its Sanmachi Suji District, which is a collection of streets that are lined with some very traditional houses, shops, restaurants, sake breweries and cafes. The area is very well preserved and is the perfect place to spend an afternoon and was easily one of the best places to visit in Japan for everyone on my tour.
The region surrounding Takayama is also very well known for its timber sources and carpenters, so if you’re looking for a few beautiful wood pieces or a great chopstick set to take home this is the place to pick them up! My advice would be to buy two, one that is fancy and traditional and one that is more plain and usable for every day. I made the mistake of buying only one fancy chopstick set and now I don’t want to use it because it’s so amazing, so don’t make my mistake!
Don’t miss out on the morning markets along Kaji Bridge to the Miya River. Every morning locals set up their little shops and sell traditional vegetables and fruits that are native to Hida, homemade miso and pickled vegetables (specialities to the area), they’ll also sell homemade crafts and one of Takayama’s most famous souvenirs the Sarubobo.
The Sarubobo is a Japanese amulet that is traditionally red in colour and is shaped like humans but has no facial features. They were originally made by grandmothers or mothers for their grandchildren or daughters as a charm for a good marriage, good children and for protection from bad things, now they come in a variety of colours and each colour symbolizes a different wish for its owner. Takayama is one of the only places to visit in Japan that you can buy the Sarubobo, so make sure you don’t miss out!
Others things worth seeing in Takayama include; the Jinya (a government house dating back to the 1600’s), Higashiyama Walking Course (location of an old castle base), Sakurayama Hacimangu Shrine, Hida Kokubun-ji Temple, and Hida Minzoka Mura Folk Village.
One of the best places to visit in Japan that offers incredible historical significance for the entire world is Hiroshima. Hiroshima is a treasure-trove of historical buildings with significant meaning and Japan tourist attractions. From it’s Edo Period towns to its multiple castles and modern architecture and museums to the atomic bomb memorials and monuments, Hiroshima is a great place to immerse yourself into Japan.
I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I loved Hiroshima, I thought at first it would be a little bit hard to deal with learning more about the atomic bombs that landed on the thriving city, and while it was difficult, there was also so much beauty. The area near the Atomic Bomb Dome (a building that survived the bomb drop despite being directly underneath the explosion) is surrounded by beautiful sculptures that remember those that were lost or affected and the narrow pathways along the river are lined with cherry blossom trees that bloom in elegance in the spring.
Nearby the dome is a memorial museum as well as several monuments remembering those lost. One of them is the Children’s Peace Monument. This monument was built to remember the thoughts of innocent children who died due to the bombing and one young girl named Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was exposed to radiation at the age of two and died of leukaemia ten years later. After being admitted to the hospital she decided to fold 1000 paper cranes, as it was said that whoever did would be granted a wish.
She managed to fold the 1000 paper cranes plus an additional 300 before she lost her life. The Children’s Peace Monument is an ode to her and a symbol for peace, it also serves as a reminder for all the innocent children lost to nuclear war. Today you can still find displays of paper cranes all around the monument.
If you are lucky enough to visit in Japan’s famous Cherry Blossom (Sakura) season you’ll find tons of pathways along the river lined with blossoming trees making for an extremely romantic view. It also makes a great space for picnics under the blossoms! Hiroshima is absolutely one of the best places to visit in Japan for a variety of reasons and won’t disappoint.
Kyoto was Japan’s capital and the residence for the Emporer for more than a thousand years, today is one of the best places to visit in Japan and one of the largest Japan tourist spots. There is an infinite amount of good things I could say about Kyoto and why it’s 1000% worth visiting while you are in Japan. It’s home to incredible food, breathtaking views, mind-blowing architecture, impeccable culture, and serene yet iconic temples and shrines.
Before I went to Kyoto myself I heard many stories about all the incredible things to see and do, one of them being the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shinto shrine. After seeing photos of it years prior to my trip with Contiki, it immediately became a box on my checklist of things I absolutely must see before I die. Trust me, it did not disappoint!
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is famous for its thousands of bright orange torii gates which straddle a giant network of trails that lead up a mountain and take you past traditional buildings through the sacred forest of Mount Inari. Fushimi Inari Shrine is said to date as far back as 794, which is before the capital moved to Kyoto! The thousands of torii gates are actually donated from both individuals and companies, which is why on the back of the orange towering gates you’ll see black writing, these are the name of the donor and the date of donation.
The entire trail can take 2-3 hours so it depends on how much of the trail you want to do, but personally, I recommend walking the trail until you reach the Yotsusuji intersection which is about half-way up (should take 30-45 minutes). The view from the intersection if beautiful as you can see all of Kyoto and is by far one of the best places to visit in Japan for great views! Tip: The higher up you go, the fewer the people, the easier it is to get a great photo without the crowds.
A few other great spots in Kyoto include Niji-Jo Castle which is an incredibly impressive sight with traditional buildings and giant stone walls that are surrounded by deep moats filled with koi. Niji-Jo showcases the power that the Shoguns (military warlords) has over Japan for a majority of its history and through the Edo period, it is a very popular Japan tourist spot and can attract major crowds so it is best to go early. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is another one of the iconic places to visit in Japan that attract large crowds.
The grove is lined with towering bamboo stocks and transports you into another world. It is one of the most photographed sights in Kyoto and is easily accessed via train from Kyoto’s city centre. Lastly, don’t miss one of the most iconic places to visit in Japan (more specifically Kyoto), Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion.
5) Mount Koya
If you’ve ever wanted to stay in a Buddhist Temple and truly experience a piece of Japan’s culture and history, Mount Koya is the place. Mount Koya is one of the more unique places to visit in Japan and one of those Japan tourist attractions that is a bit harder to get to, but well worth the effort! Koyasan is where Shingon Buddhism in Japan began over 1,200 years ago and it remains one of the most sacred places in the entire country.
Staying in a Buddhist Temple is a truly unique experience, you sleep in traditional tatami rooms which include tatami floors, futon bedding, chabudai floor tables, and sliding shōji doors (wooden doors with translucent paper). A lot of the monasteries in Mount Koya also has onsens that you can enjoy and offer morning prays that you can either watch or partake it (they’re very early in the morning but well worth the experience). The hospitality, kindness, and welcoming nature of the monks are no doubt one of the best reasons to stay at a Buddhist temple in Mount Koya and amplify why it is one of the best places to visit in Japan.
One of the largest Japan tourist attractions in Mount Koya is the large Buddhist cemetery known as Okunoin. The graveyard contains over 200,000 unique gravestones and monuments that lay in the green moss of the forest. Okunoin is a resting place for those who, in death, wish to be closer to Kobo Dashi who is the founder of Shingon Buddhism.
Not all of the tombstones have bodies, sometimes they are just set there in place of an individual after they pass to protect them and guide them in their afterlife. I highly recommend visiting both at night and during the day, at night stone lanterns light the way and guide you along a solemn path through the forest, while during the day you can witness the contrast of the red cloth draped over the memorials among the grey stones and green moss. After walking through the pathway of tombstones you’ll reach the Torodo Hall also known as the hall of lamps. It has over 10,000 lanterns that fill the building and illuminate the dark.
Getting to Mount Koya is also an adventure on it’s own, after taking a train to a nearby station you will board the Gokurakubashi funicular, which is a cable car that takes visitors up the steep mount and offers incredible views and a super cool ride. It’s no wonder Mount Koya is one of the best places to visit in Japan!
Osaka tends to be one of the most overlooked places to visit in Japan and is sometimes just used as a destination to get people in and out of the country, but it is so much more than just a pitstop along the Japan tourist attractions must-see list. Osaka is the second largest city in Japan, next to Tokyo, if I am being honest it is not the most picturesque city in Japan when comparing it to the likes of Kyoto but it is still full of unique Japan tourist spots and some of the best shopping in the country.
Osaka is also a huge hub for incredible Japanese cuisine and offers a ton of museums which help you further learn about Japanese culture. One of the best and most popular places in Osaka, especially at night, is Dotonbori.
Dotonbori is one of the best places to visit in Japan’s bustling city of Osaka because it is the central area for a lot of bars, restaurants, cafes, karaoke bars and located along the Dotonbori canal which offers beautiful mixed views of where the city meets the water. The colourful, glowing lights from the buildings and their rooftop terraces twinkle along the way and is awe-inspiring in its own way.
One of the more traditional places to visit in Osaka is Osaka Castle which was originally built in 1583, however, the castle that currently stands is actually a reconstruction of the original but is still regarded as one of the cant-miss places to visit in Japan. Other more traditional sites include one of the oldest temples in Japan, Shintennoji Temple and the head shrine of all Sumiyoshi Shrines, Sumiyoshi Taisha.
Osaka is also home to one of the four Universal Studios in the world, which is bound to make for a pretty epic day. If you’re wondering if there is a Harry Potter world at Osaka’s Universal Studios, yes, yes there is, there is also a Hello Kitty area! Universal Studios Japan was the first Universal Studios theme park to be built in Asia and still attracts nearly 8 million visitors a year, so don’t miss out on one of the best places to visit in Japan and skip over Osaka.
7) Miyajima Island
Miyajima Island has been known as one of the top three places to visit in Japan and one of the top Japan tourist attractions. Miyajima is a romantic destination located just off Hiroshima Bay that has been regarded as an island of the Gods. One of it’s most famous landmarks is the UNESCO World Heritage site, Itsukushima Shrine.
The Itsukushima Shrine is home to the Great Torii which is said to be the boundary between the spirit and human worlds. This giant Torii sits in an inlet of water and during high tide, it looks as though it is floating on the surface, during low tide you can walk right out to the Torii. Honestly, I recommend going during high tide simply because the reflection of the orange Torii gate is an incredible sight to see and completely unforgettable.
There are also plenty of trails around Miyajima Island so if you love to hike this is a great place to do it! In the spring cherry blossoms bloom along the canals and in the fall the flora turns into a bright orange and yellow. Miyajima Island is also home to one of the most popular Japan tourist attractions, wild deer that are accustomed to people. Much like the famous Nara Park where you can become a real-life version of Snow White, Miyajima is home to deer that have no problem walking up to you and asking for some attention.
Spending the day of Miyajima or even one night is not complete without some of their famous sweet treats. Manju is one of the more popular and well-known treats but more specifically it’s the Momiji Manju, a maple leaf shaped treat that is made by wrapping bean jam in a sweet honey dough, it dates back to as far as 1868. They also sell Kit Kat’s that are flavoured like the famous maple leaf shaped treats, these Kit Kat’s can only be found on Miyajima!
Miyajima is also home to arguably one of the best ice cream places to visit in Japan, Cornet Misen. Now, this is not a treat I recommend skipping out on because honestly…I still dream of eating it and can’t wait to go back and eat this perfectly delicious treat again. Sure, there are a lot of different ice cream flavours in Japan, but this has nothing to do with the flavours of ice cream and is more about the ice cream cone itself.
Cornet Misen sells ice cream in a type of rolled pastry cone known as a Cornet. These cornets are heavenly tier cones, they are soft and sweet and as your ice cream melts while you’re eating it they collect the drippings to create an even more delicious last bite. It’s no wonder Miyajima Island is on the list of best places to visit in Japan, incredible sights, beautiful creatures, great food, and even better desserts!
Last but certainly not least on our list of the best places to visit in Japan is Hakone. Hakone is a mountainous area that is known for its natural beauty, historical sites, onsens, and views of the epic Mount Fuji. Now for me being from Calgary, Canada and living only an hour away from Banff, I expected the Hakone region to be similar, but much to my surprise it was so much different and just as wonderful.
Due to the geothermal activity in the region, there are plenty of beautiful onsens (hot springs) that tourists can visit, but beware that if you have tattoos (like me) you may be unable to go in a lot of them as tattoos are still very taboo in Japan. If you are interested in seeing more of the geothermal activity in a much more ‘active’ setting then you’ll want to head to Owakudani (also known as the Valley of Hell). Owakudani is one of the most unique places to visit in Japan because it was created by the last major eruption of Mount Hakone and is still an actual active volcano valley.
It’s best to do your research about visiting Owakudani before attempting to go because sometimes if the weather conditions are bad or the volcano is being a bit ‘grumpy’ the area may be closed. If you are a bit of a risk taker or are looking to add 7 years to your life you’ll want to head to the ropeway station which sells famous black eggs. These eggs are boiled in the bubbling natural springs from the volcanos steam vents. The eggs emerge with a black shell due to the sulphur and iron that is in the boiling water but don’t worry they taste like normal eggs.
In order to get up to the Owakudani, you will want to take the Hakone Ropeway, the ropeway offers incredible views of Mount Fuji, Lake Ashinoko and even the Owakudani Valley. Lake Ashinoko is one of the more popular places to visit in Japan if you are looking for breath-taking views of towering Mount Fuji. The mountain (if you’re lucky) will reflect off the clear waters of the water and if you’re even luckier and visit in Japan’s cherry blossom season, there may be cherry blossoms blooming too!
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Hakone you should most certainly experience a bit of traditional Japanese life and stay in a Ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese inn, these types of inns have existed since the 8th century AD. They typically have onsens attached to them and if you are willing to spend a bit more could even get a private onsen! Staying in a Ryokan is a great way to get more into Japanese culture and Hakone does an incredible job at maintaining this tradition, which is just another reason as to why Hakone is one of the must-see places to visit in Japan.
This list of the 8 most amazing places to visit in Japan is just a taste of everything that Japan as a whole has to offer. I was fortunate enough to travel to Japan as an ambassador for Contiki and not only did I meet some of the best people I know, but I had the time of my life in a country I always wanted to visit. I knew Japan wouldn’t disappoint but I had no idea how much more incredible it would be in real life than in my head and in the stories I had read.
If you are even remotely thinking about going to Japan, all I can say is do it! Don’t wait and do it later, do it now! Every single one of the places to visit in Japan that I had the pleasure of experiencing was beyond what I could have ever imagined it was. On top of all the incredible sights like Miyajima Island, the Shrines of beautiful Kyoto and the streets of Takayama, the people, the culture, the food are all just as mind-blowing.