Japan is a mystery.
It’s the ideal blending of cutting-edge technology moving at breakneck speed with centuries-old customs. Many first-time visitors to Japan are frequently shocked to discover that this very small Asian country, which is one of the world’s most advanced industrialised nations, also enjoys a rich and interesting history that extends back thousands of years.
In fact, Japan’s Shinto and Buddhist temples were already well-established and attracting pilgrims and patrons to their ornate designs and décor long before many of Europe’s most magnificent cathedrals were completed. The nation was simultaneously honing its trades and talents in everything from fine porcelain and pottery to fabrics like silk that would put it on the path to wealth.
Despite wars and natural disasters, much of this rich tradition has been kept (or restored), making a trip to Japan an unforgettable experience. A trip to Japan is undoubtedly a fantastic use of time and money because of the country’s seemingly unending list of top attractions, enjoyable activities, and interesting places to see.
Our list of the top tourist destinations in the nation will help you choose the greatest spots to visit.
1. Mount Fuji
Japan’s most famous landmark, the majestic Mount Fuji (Fuji-san), also happens to be the tallest mountain peak in the world. This magnificent and fabled mountain rises 3,776 metres over a primarily flat landscape to the south and east, far enough to be seen from Tokyo at a distance of more than 100 kilometres.
Mount Fuji has long been celebrated in literature and the arts, and today it is regarded as such a prominent emblem that, in 2013, UNESCO recognised its importance to world culture. Every summer, more than a million people ascend Mount Fuji as part of a pilgrimage that culminates in seeing the dawn from its summit. The National Park of Fuji-Hakone-Izu includes Mount Fuji.
The majority of climbers now begin at the 5th Station, which results in a more manageable ascent of six to eight hours, however some still opt to begin at the bottom. It is advised that, if you do decide to attempt the entire climb, you depart in the afternoon and take a break from the climb by spending the night in one of the “Mountain Huts” designed especially for this purpose. You can watch the dawn the following morning if you get up early.
In fact, many people claim to have finished the work at hand by simply observing the mountain in the distance or from the comfort of a moving train.
2. Imperial Tokyo
The Imperial Palace, Tokyo’s most famous site, must be seen when travelling to the nation’s capital. It boasts magnificent parks from the 17th century that are ringed by walls and moats. You may still see a lot by simply wandering the grounds; don’t allow the fact that the Imperial family still uses the most of the palace discourage you.
In addition to the numerous beautiful views of the palace from various positions in the surrounding parkland, visitors are permitted in the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden and other portions that are accessible to the general public as part of an organised tour. Due to its aquatic reflection, the famous Nijubashi Bridge, also referred to as the “double bridge,” has one of the most beautiful views.
Another must-see site for visitors to Tokyo is the renowned Ginza shopping area. This always crowded area is home to the Kabuki-za Theatre, which presents Kabuki plays, as well as the Shimbashi Enbujo Theatre, which presents traditional Azuma-odori dances and Bunraku performances.
3. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Nothing needs to be said about the tragedies of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945, but much might be written about the amazing measures this vibrant city has taken to honour the countless victims of the world’s first nuclear strike. Perhaps even more important, Hiroshima has come to stand for lasting peace.
More than a million tourists per year, many of them foreigners, visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Ken), which is situated at the site of the atomic blast in what was once a busy section of the city. In this region, there are various noteworthy monuments, museums, and memorials honouring the awful events of that day.
The park is home to the Peace Memorial Museum, which includes a number of exhibitions addressing the subject of international peace, in addition to the grounds and gardens with their bright cherry blossoms. There are also the Memorial Cenotaph and the Flame of Peace, as well as the Atom Bomb Dome, the ruins of an administrative building that stood in the explosion’s centre.
4. Historic Kyoto
Lovely Kyoto, one of the few cities in Japan spared the destruction of World War II, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the nation, welcoming more than 10 million tourists each year. The majority of them are in Kyoto to see its beautiful old streets and buildings, much of which has been untouched since the Imperial dynasty moved in more than 1,000 years ago.
The city was already the most significant cultural hub in Japan at the time. In reality, this legacy is still present today in the numerous museums and galleries that are home to significant sculptures, paintings, and other works of art.
The many well-preserved temples in Kyoto, 30 of which are still in operation, and significant buildings like the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), known for its magnificent facade of gold leaf, are highlights of the city’s Buddhist-influenced architecture.
Visit Nijo Castle as well, a castle from the 17th century that still retains its original walls, towers, and moat. The castle’s stunning gates and palace, which features tasteful interior decoration, are well worth visiting.
The original Kyoto Imperial Palace is another important site (Kyoto-gosho). One of the most popular historic landmarks in the city, it was constructed in AD 794.
Last but not least, a trip to Kyoto wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The town centre can be reached in a short distance by foot from this lovely area of tall bamboo.
5. The Island Shrine of Itsukushima, Miyajima
The island of Miyajima, often known as Japan’s Shrine Island, is only a short ferry journey from Hiroshima’s mainland. Miyajima is a 30-square-kilometer island in Hiroshima Bay best known for being the location of the Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto shrine honouring the Princess daughters of the wind god Susanoo.
The majority of the shrine’s structures, which date to the eighth century, stand out of the water in a small bay supported only by piles. At high tide, these constructions, especially the well-known Great Floating Gate (O-Torii), appear to be floating on water, which is a truly amazing effect.
It’s an interesting area to visit, especially its larger halls, which are connected by walkways and bridges. The magnificent Honden (Main Hall), the Offerings Hall (Heiden), the Prayer Hall (Haiden), and the Hall with a Thousand Mats are a few of these (Senjokaku).
The shrine’s stage, where visitors can enjoy traditional dances and musical performances, is another noteworthy aspect. The beautiful grounds and gardens of the island, which are home to wild deer and numerous bird colonies, are well worth exploring.
Please be aware that this historic property is undergoing significant repairs from now until 2022, which may cause some delays and inconveniences.
6. Temple City: Historic Nara
The picturesque, pristine city of Nara, which served as the centre of Japanese culture for centuries, is home to several historic structures, significant national treasures, and works of art.
The city is home to various significant antique temples in addition to its numerous historic streets. These include the magnificent Kofuku-ji Temple from the seventh century, which is arguably the best known of Nara’s Seven Great Temples, and the magnificent Todai-ji (Great East Temple) from the eighth century, which is well known for the enormous bronze statue of the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) that was cast there in AD 749.
The Great South Gate of Todai-ji is also noteworthy (Nandaimon). The impressive two-story structure that protects the temple’s entrance is supported by 18 columns and two eight-meter-tall Nio sculptures. The Hall of the Great Buddha, the largest timber building in the world, is also noteworthy in this location.
7. Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle, also known as “saka-j,” was the largest and most significant castle in the nation when it was constructed in 1586 by renowned Japanese warrior and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Despite having been repeatedly demolished and rebuilt since then, the current building, constructed in 1931, stays loyal to the original.
A visit should not be missed to see the massive, five-story, 42-meter-tall main tower. A number of exhibits tracing the history of the castle and the city are housed in the tower, which is constructed on an imposing 14-meter-tall stone base. Visit the top level for its magnificent views of Osaka, which are especially lovely as the sun sets.
The Hokoku Shrine, which is located in Osaka Castle Park, is particularly noteworthy. Shitenn-ji, Osaka’s most well-known temple, is also well worth a visit and dates back to AD 59. This gorgeous shrine includes a five-story pagoda along with a variety of other exquisitely built buildings. It is noteworthy as Japan’s first Buddhist temple. Among these are the Lecture Hall (Kd), the Golden Pavilion (Kond), with its exquisite statues and artwork, and a magnificent covered hallway connecting three of the site’s gates.
8. Chūbu-Sangaku National Park and the Japanese Alps
There are several exceptional natural places in Japan, many of which have been classified as national parks or, in some cases, UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Chbu-Sangaku National Park, located in the heart of Honshu, is one of the most breathtaking in the entire nation. The Hida Mountains, also known as the Japanese Alps, are a collection of mountains that are situated in the park’s northern and central parts.
Some of the tallest mountains in the nation, including Hotaka (3,190 metres) and Yari (3,180 metres), are found in this area. The Japanese Alps are similar to the Alps of Central Europe in many aspects, including the character of the scenery and the quantity of snow they receive in winter. In addition, both seasons see a significant influx of skiers.
The abundance of flora and fauna in the park, especially the rare ptarmigan and mountain antelopes found at higher elevations, is particularly fascinating. The park’s numerous hot springs, which also draw tourists, inspired the creation of a number of spas and vacation destinations, the most well-known of which is Kamikchi.
9. The Atsuta Shrine, Nagoya
The most significant Shinto temple in Japan is the Atsuta Shrine, which is located in the centre of Nagoya and receives more than five million visitors annually. This sacred shrine, which dates back to the first century, is well-known for having one of only three intact examples of the “grass-mowing sword” (kusanagi-no-tsurugi), an Imperial emblem.
Its main shrine, Hongu, which is enclosed by a wall, as well as the treasure with its many works of art, including antique and contemporary paintings, ceramics, jewellery, and traditional masks, are both interesting. Be sure to visit Nagoya Castle while you are in the city. Built in 1612, this magnificent moated complex has a 48-meter-high main tower that is renowned for housing two gold dolphins (shachi). It’s also well-known for its museum, which houses artwork from the previous palace, and its breathtaking views over both the city and the Nobi Plain.