There are more than a few good reasons to visit Japan, and this island nation in the Pacific Ocean has an ancient and rich cultural heritage that coexists harmoniously with its futuristic cities and modern technologies. There are many things to see in Japan, and the county encompasses dense cities, imperial palaces, iconic mountain ranges and national parks along with thousands of sacred shrines and temples. When you visit you will discover a country with a population of 127 million people nationwide.
Japan plays host to an average of 19 million international visitors each year. Tourists are drawn to the country for its skyscrapers, shopping, cuisine, natural beauty and unique pop-culture. Getting around is easy on the high-tech Shinkansen bullet trains, which connect the main islands of Kyushu famous for Okinawa’s subtropical beaches, Honshu which is home to Tokyo and Hokkaido which is famous for skiing and its abundant seafood. Here is our pick for the top five places to visit when in Japan.
Most trips to Japan begin and end with a stop in the capital city of Tokyo. Exciting and vibrant, it is a fascinating destination that blends the ancient with the super-modern, and features upscale shopping, dining and karaoke bars along with ancient shrines and traditional gardens covered with beautiful Cherry Blossoms. Be sure to visit the high-end shopping centers and trendy boutiques such as Shibuya 109 and Shibuya Crossing that reflect that iconic Tokyo fashion style. If great city views are what you are all about, check out Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Sky. Don’t forget to enjoy the delicious street food, bars and nightlife that the city has to offer. Other must-see sites in Tokyo include some of the old temples like Senso-Ji Temple, the Zojoji Temple, and the Meiji Shrine.
No trip to Japan would be complete without a visit to historic Hiroshima, which holds the unique distinction of being the first city in the world to have had an atomic bomb dropped on it during World War II. Hiroshima points of interest include the Peace Memorial Museum, Peace Park, and the Peace Memorial. A trip to Hiroshima is somewhat somber, but enriching. Hiroshima attractions to visit include the A-Bomb Dome, which is one of the few buildings in central Hiroshima to survive the original blast, and the Children’s Peace Monument. Other popular sites to see are Hiroshima Castle and the lovely sunken garden of Shukkein-en.
When it comes to “bucket list” destinations, hiking Mt. Fuji tends to be at the top of many peoples list. Although it is not for the fainthearted, you do not necessarily have to be a world-class athlete to make the trek. Located 100 km southwest of Tokyo; Mt. Fuji commonly called “Fuji-san,” is the country’s tallest peak and an active volcano. A pilgrimage site for centuries, it is considered one of Japan’s three sacred mountains, and summit hikes remain a popular activity. There are many Mt. Fuji day trips, excursions and tours to choose from, and if hiking is not your preference, then you can simply take a stroll along the shoulder of the mountain, visit the towns around the base, or take in the fresh air while enjoying the spectacular views.
Soak in Natural Hot Springs
Japanese hot springs are an evocative combination of wilderness, modernity and relaxation that are quintessential to any holiday in Japan. Communal in nature, “Onsen” has been practiced by locals and heralded for its restorative and healing powers for nearly 1300 years in places such as Dogo on the island of Shikoku. Dogo is regarded as one of the best hot springs in Japan, and the grand, three-story “Dogo Onsen Honkan” at the center of the resort is a 19th-century architectural gem complete with a bathing room that was once used by the imperial family. There are literally thousands of public baths and “Onsen” across the country, and some of the best in Japan include Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata, Noboribetsu Onsen in Hokkaido, Manza Onsen in Gunma and Shima Onsen in Gunma.
The historical city of Kyoto is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. Kyoto used to be the imperial capital of Japan for over 1,000 years, and is packed with history and culture that is a delight to explore. Kyoto is home to over 1,600 historic Buddhist temples, with many dating back more than a millennium. You will be able to visit colorful shrines, Samurai castles, tranquil Zen Gardens, and dive deep into Geisha and Maiko culture. Kyoto is known as the city of 10,000 shrines, and you can explore the tranquil Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, lovely gardens and traditional wooden houses. Although modern-day Kyoto has preserved much of its culture, historical buildings and architectural style, it has gained international recognition for its award-winning restaurants. There are over 100 Michelin-starred restaurants in Kyoto, and it is often referred to as “the kitchen of Japan”. As the home of traditional sake, you can experience the best of Japanese gastronomy, including tempura, soba, udon, ramen, unagi and okonomiyak and regional specialties such as Kyoto-style Sushi and Buddhist cuisine.
Melissa is a passionate foodie, travel writer, and editor working in media internationally and in the USA. She has lived in Bangkok since 2004 and has a background in the travel industry. Melissa’s writing has been published globally in many prestigious online and print magazines for over a decade. Her motto for life is “You cannot live or love well if you have not wined and dined well!”