Japan is quickly becoming one of the top travel destinations in the world. More and more people are traveling to the island nation every year, lured by the promise of fresh sushi, amazing train rides, safe cities, intriguing traditions, and quirky pop culture. But there’s more to Japan than cat and robot cafes; its many islands are surprisingly easy to travel around and well connected by railways, ferries and bus services.
Learn about Ainu culture in the cold, snow-coated northern island of Hokkaido and the ancient wonders of the Edo capital of Kyoto. Embark on temple pilgrimages in Shikoku, explore the peaceful streets of Hiroshima, discover the often forgotten Ryukyu culture in the tropical islands of Okinawa and get lost in the never-ending glittering delights in the buzzing streets of Tokyo.
Japan is a warm, welcoming and endlessly interesting travel destination with something for everyone. Here’s a look at the best places to visit in Japan:
Koya-san or Mount Koya is the most important site in Shingon Buddhism, a sect that has been practiced in Japan since 805 when it was introduced by Kobo Daishi. It remains the headquarters for the sect and the small town that grew up around the temple. The site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum, this wooded Mount Koya is also the starting and ending place of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Tourists can get a taste of the monk’s life here as they are allowed to stay overnight in the temple.
Located west of Okinawa, Ishigaki is Japan’s premier beach destination and makes a good base to explore the other islands in the Yaeyama archipelago. Blessed with Japan’s best beaches, it is particularly popular with families since the beaches at Fusaki and Maezato are net-protected. Located 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) south of Tokyo, Ishigaki may not have the shrines and temples that other Japanese cities have, but it does have an exuberant nightlife for visitors who have the energy after a day of beachcombing, water sports or climbing Mount Nosoko.
In the mid-nineteenth century Kanazawa was Japan’s 4th largest city, built around a grand castle and the beautiful garden. Today, the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture continues to cultivate the arts and contains an attractive old town. Having escaped bombing during World War II, traditional inner-city areas, such as Nagamachi with its samurai houses and the charming geisha teahouse district of Higashi Chaya, remain intact and are a joy to wander around.
7. Hiroshima Find Hotels
Hiroshima, located on Honshu Island, is younger than many Japanese cities, less than 500 years old, but its fate was forever sealed in history on August 6, 1945, when it became the first city in the world to have an atomic bomb dropped on it. Although more than 60 percent of the buildings in Hiroshima were destroyed, the city has managed to make an amazing recovery since that devastating blast. In fact, by 1974, the city had actually managed to double its pre-war population, and it has also become a popular tourist destination.
One of the most popular attractions in this city is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which was created in memory of all those who lost their lives or were injured by the atomic bomb. This large park is home to several interesting sites, including the Peace Memorial Museum where visitors can see the effect the bomb had on the citizens of Hiroshima. Another must-see tourist site is the great Torii, a wooden shrine gateway that appears to be floating in the sea at high tide. The Torii is located on nearby Miyajima Island.
6. Kamakura Find Hotels
Located on the coast less than an hour from Tokyo, Kamakura was once an important town, the seat of a military government that ruled Japan for a hundred years. Today, it’s a relaxed seaside resort sometimes called the Kyoto of eastern Japan because of its many temples and shrines. Its most famous sight is the Daibutsu, a huge bronze Buddha statue surrounded by trees, but the town’s ancient Zen temples are equally compelling.
5. Nikko Find Hotels
Nikko is a small town at the entrance to Nikko National Park, most famous for Toshogu, Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Another popular attraction is the red-lacquered Shin-kyō bridge. One of the popular places to visit in Japan, the national park offers scenic mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, wild monkeys and many hiking trails. While stunning scenery is available year ‘round, fall is an especially good time to visit Nikko. That’s when leaves transform the landscape with spectacular bursts of color.
4. Takayama Find Hotels
Visitors who long for peace and quiet after the hustling pace of Japan’s big cities may want to head to the tourist town of Hida-Takayama where they can experience life in a rural setting. Located near the northern Japan Alps, Takayama is well known for having one of the best-preserved old towns in Japan. The prettiest section of the old city is called Sanmachi. It consists of three narrow lanes packed with wooden buildings housing sake breweries and little boutiques.
3. Nara Find Hotels
Nara, once known as Heijo, was the first permanent capital of Japan, established in 710. The capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784 when the government was threatened by powerful Buddhist monasteries. Located less than an hour from Kyoto, seeing Japan’s oldest and largest temples is a popular tourist activity. Visitors especially like Todaiji Temple with its cantilevered buildings, manicured lawns and deer strolling the grounds.
2. Kyoto Find Hotels
Kyoto today is the capital only of Kyoto prefecture, but it once served as the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years. If you’re interested in catching a glimpse of old Japan, Kyoto should definitely be on your itinerary. Because of its historical significance, this city was largely spared much of the destructive bombing that occurred throughout the rest of Japan during World War II. Located on central Honshu Island, this city of 1.5 million people, also boasts more than 1,000 temples and shrines, including one of the most photographed, the Golden Pavilion.
In addition to the large number of religious structures, Kyoto is home to gorgeous Nijo Castle, the former residence of the Tokugawa shoguns; Higashiyama, a well-preserved historic district; and Gion, Kyoto’s famous geisha district. But Kyoto is not just about history, this city also boasts a world-class aquarium and for fun, you can learn how to become a Japanese assassin at the Ninja Training Dojo.
Read more: Top Kyoto Attractions
1. Tokyo Where to Stay in Tokyo
Travelers who like to mingle with people will love Tokyo. The Japanese capital’s metropolitan area is the most populous in the world. From viewing spring cherry blossoms in traditional gardens to the fish market at Tuskiji. Tokyo blends the ancient with the new, from shrines to karaoke bars.
It’s hard to be bored in frenetic, fast-paced Tokyo where even a walk down the streets can be interesting. This city’s Shibuya intersection, for example, is famous for its controlled mob crossing; and it’s Harajuku neighborhood is known throughout the world for its amazing street fashion, including but definitely not limited to goth-Lolitas, punk or kawaii schoolgirls. Tokyo is also home to numerous shrines, including the most famous, the Meiji Shrine, and Sensoji Temple, one of its oldest.
Then there is the Tsukiji Fish Market. In most cities, a fish market wouldn’t be a tourist attraction, but this is the world’s busiest and largest, and it also happens to be on the itinerary of just about every visitor to Tokyo. Plus, it is one of the best places on the planet to get extremely fresh sushi. One caveat, because you’ll be visiting the fish market early in the morning, you’ll be having your sushi for breakfast. Other interesting attractions in Tokyo include the Imperial Palace, the residence of the emperor, and Tokyo Tower. Fortunately, getting around Tokyo is easy as this city boasts a large and relatively easy-to-use transit system. If you have the time, you’ll definitely want to consider taking a day trip to beautiful Mount Fuji.
Read more: Top Tokyo Attractions
Map of Japan
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