Japan is one of the most unique and fascinating countries in the world. Located on a collection of volcanic, mountainous islands, you are never very far from the coast or from an outstandingly beautiful natural location. The list of must-see sights is almost endless but top of the list is definitely iconic Mount Fuji and its surrounding five lakes – you can reach this remarkable destination on a day-trip from Tokyo on the famous bullet train. After a busy day of sightseeing you can relax in one of the many soothing hot spring spas. Hours/availability may have changed.
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Japan’s bustling capital city is one of the world’s most unique places to visit, offering a range of activities and attractions that are second to none. If you are a first time visitor, it can all be rather daunting trying to decide what to see and what to leave out. There is an amazing variety of tours available to suit all interests, from city highlights to hopping on the famous bullet train for a day-trip to Mount Fuji. Within the city you will find a mix of ultramodern and ancient architecture virtually side by side, and there are museums to please everyone from classical art at the Tokyo National Museum to a replica of a kabuki theater in the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Highlights of your visit could include watching a sumo wrestling tournament or visiting the impressive Imperial Palace.
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Located on Honshu Island, Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and is still an exciting city to visit to experience many aspects of Japanese history and culture. Kyoto is known for its many Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and imperial palaces, many of which you can see on a one-day tour of the city. If you prefer to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, Kyoto is the perfect city, offering a wide range of experiences for visitors, including tea ceremonies, Zen meditation classes, learning Japanese calligraphy and origami, or learning how to wear a kimono or yukata. You can visit some good museums, attend the theater, or enjoy fine dining. Outdoor activities include cycle tours, garden visits, and much more.
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Set against the backdrop of a string of volcanoes in the central part of Oita, Beppu holds the distinction of having the greatest concentration of “gushers”, or thermal hot springs, anywhere in Japan. The popular Hell Tour will show you some of the eight amazing hot springs, each of which has a different mineral composition, leading to a variety of colors. At Umi Jigoku you can see a superb pool of boiling cobalt blue water, while Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Hell) features a cauldron of bright red water. These hot springs are definitely not for bathing, but you can relax at one of several spa resorts that are fed by the Beppu springs. Other activities in Beppu include visiting the traditional bamboo craft centers and an historic samurai residence.
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Located on the northern shore of Japan’s Kyushu island, the modern city of Fukuoka is a great place to start your exploration of Japan. The city boasts excellent transport facilities and there are many urban green spaces to escape to when the hustle and bustle of city life becomes too hectic. There are many tourist attractions to add to your list, starting with Fukuoka Tower and Observation Platform (for an overview of the city), Fukuoka Castle and Kushida Shrine for the history lovers, and Canal City Hakata for the shoppers. Foodies will love the amazing food culture in the city, which is rumored to have the best yatai (food stalls) and fish market in Japan – several guided food tours are available.
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Nestled in the heart of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the mountainous town of Hakone is famous for its hot spring resorts and brilliant views of Mount Fuji. Besides enjoying the restorative properties of the hot water springs, you can visit several interesting attractions in the area, including the Hakusan Shinto Shrine, the Hakone Botanical Gardens and Wetlands, the Hakone Aquarium, and the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum – plan to stay overnight to get the most out of your visit. Within the national park you can go walking and hiking along several trails, take a boat trip on Lake Ashi, and take the cable car to the summit of Mount Komagatake for remarkable views of Mount Fuji.
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Located in the northern Japanese Alps, Hakuba is a paradise for all winter sport fanatics who come to enjoy nine ski resorts, 135 ski lifts, and over 200 ski runs. You can ski and snow-board to your hearts’ content as well as trying snowmobiling, Nordic skiing, heli-skiing, and snowshoeing. After a busy day in the snow you can soak your aching muscles in mineral-rich natural hot spring waters. When you need a break from the slopes you can sample traditional Japanese culture by learning origami and soba-noodle making or donning a kimono and attending a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Don’t miss the chance to visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park to see the amazing snow monkeys relaxing in the natural hot springs.
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History and culture enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy the city of Takayama, located in the Hida region of Japan’s mountainous Gifu Prefecture. The city has a well-preserved historic district called Sanmachi, where you can stroll along a long road of wooden merchant’s houses and sake breweries that date back to the Edo Period (1603–1868). In addition, you can see historic farmhouses in the Gokayama Historic Village and unusual gassho-style buildings in Shirakawa Village. There are several good museums, including the Kusakabi Folk Museum and the Hida Archaeology Museum. For a break from art and history you can go hiking along scenic mountain trails, visit waterfalls, temples, gardens, and hot springs.
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Although most visitors to the city of Hiroshima go there to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site A-bomb Dome and its surrounding Peace Memorial Park, the city and its surrounding countryside have a great deal more to offer. A tour of Peace Memorial Park and the site where the atomic bomb was dropped is essential viewing for everyone to gain an understanding of the horrendous implications of war and the need for world peace. Once you have visited this poignant site, you can move on to see the city’s second World Heritage Site at the very beautiful Itsukushima Shrine, which guards the mythical home of the gods. You can also escape the city to go hiking, cycling, or walking along beautiful trails or visit one of the hot springs for a spa treatment.
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Beach lovers are somewhat spoilt for choice in the beautiful Yaeyama Islands, which surrounds Ishigaki Island in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture. Both Ishigaki and its neighboring islands are surrounded by beautiful stretches of beach, some of which are net-protected for safe swimming, and many offer easily accessible coral reefs for snorkeling. Favorite activities in Ishigaki include island-hopping, glass-bottomed boat excursions in Kabira Bay, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, cycling, and sightseeing. If you have a car or bicycle, you can easily tour the island in a few hours to see lighthouses and bays and find your favorite piece of heaven. There are plenty of restaurants and the island boasts a lively nightlife.
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Kamakura dates back to before the 12th century and is one of the ancient cities of the samurai warriors, located on the coast just south of Tokyo. Visitors will find a very interesting city with a good balance of historic, cultural, and outdoor activities. There are dozens of Shinto shrines and Buddhist Zen temples, including the Kotoku-in Temple, where you can see the 13m-high Great Buddha, cast in bronze, which has survived various earthquakes and tsunamis. Art lovers can visit the Museum of Modern Art, while those who prefer history can tour Kamakura Museum. You can discover all the gems of the city by going on a few self-guided walking tours, details of which can be found by following the link below.
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The capital of Ishikawa Prefecture on Honshu Island, the city of Kanazawa was once a prominent castle town and is known for beautiful gardens, good museums, historical buildings, and a good helping of traditional Japanese culture. The best way to learn all about Kanazawa is to set off on one of several walking tours that will introduce you to the history and culture of the town. The Samurai Walk includes visits to the Myoryuji Temple, a typical samurai house, and the beautiful Kenrokuen Garden, while the Traditional Kanazawa Walk includes a traditional tea ceremony and wearing a kimono. Other walks you could try are the Art and Architecture Walk, the Zen Walk, and the Foodie Walk.
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Possibly best known for the superior beef produced in the area, Kobe is one of Japan’s largest cities, located on the southern shore of Honshu Island. The city has been almost completely rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1995 and is now considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Japan. You will have plenty to see and do in this diverse city – history lovers can start by touring Kitano-cho, which is home to ancient merchant’s houses that are now operated as museums. The Hyogo Museum of Art, Kobe City Museum, and the Earthquake Museum are well worth a visit before you head down to Kobe Harborland and Meriken Park for shopping, , and entertainment.
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The castle city of Matsumoto is located on the main island of Honshu, nestling between the Utsukushigahara Heights and the Japanese Alps. There is plenty to see in this pretty town, including the beautiful 400-year-old Matsumoto Castle, which offers wonderful views of the Japanese Alps from its three turrets, and an interesting adjoining museum. The Utsukushigahara Plateau and Central Mountains National Park offer a variety of hiking and trekking trails, while climbing and mountaineering are available in scenic Kamikoche. In winter the area transforms into a beautiful winter sport center and there are several hot springs where you can relax and unwind.
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Long considered to be one of the most scenic places in Japan, Miyajima Island is located on the Seto inland sea and is often referred to as the Island of the Gods due to its great beauty. One of the must-see attractions on Miyajima Island is the great torii, a spiritual gateway between the human and spirit worlds. The torii is actually built about 200m offshore, but at high tide it appears to float above the water. You can take a boat trip beneath the gateway or even go kayaking around it at high tide. You can ascend lovely Mount Misen by cable-car for amazing views of the island and the sea. History lovers will enjoy taking a stroll along Machiya-Dori, an old street lined with traditional Machiya-styled buildings that now house galleries, restaurants, and shops.
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Nagasaki lies nestled between the mountains and the sea at the southern tip of Japan, where it offers tourists a wide range of attractions and activities for all tastes. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy soaking up the sun on the beach, hiking in the mountains, or exploring by bicycle. No visit to Nagasaki would be complete without seeing the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park, and at Dijima you can trace the history and the culture of the city as you tour two fascinating exhibits. To see how western culture has impacted on the city, you can visit Glover Garden, where some of the first western residences on the island can be toured. For majestic views you can take the Nagasaki Ropeway (cable-car) to the top of Mount Inasa.
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Centrally located on the main island of Honshu, the city of Nagoya masterfully combines old and new. The city dates back to around 1614, when Nagoya Castle was built, and today you can take a walk along the Cultural Path (the area between Nagoya Castle and Tokugawa) to see several well-preserved historic buildings, before heading off to see some modern innovation, industry, arts, and crafts. You can also take some time out to visit lovely Higashiyama Park, which is home to a huge zoo and botanical garden. There are several shrines and temples to visit and foodies will enjoy the vibrant food culture – you can learn how to make sushi or join a guided food and wine tour.
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Nara is both a city and a prefecture located in south-central Honshu and was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784, a period of flourishing arts, architecture, and cultural exchange with neighboring countries. Consequently, the area has a lion’s share of interesting historical, architectural, and cultural treasures for visitors to discover. The Nara area has no less than eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites for you to tour, including several extremely old temples and shrines, the Heijokyu Imperial Palace, and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. Nature lovers can walk in the footsteps of ancient religious pilgrims as they hike along the Komano Kodo Kohechi Pilgrimage Route or enjoy getting back to nature at Mount Tamaki or in the Mitarai Valley.
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The small city of Nikko is located in a mountainous area north of Tokyo that was once the home of the Tokugawa Shoguns, whose wealth and power is reflected in the extremely elaborate temples and shrines in the area, many of which are World Heritage Sites. At the top of your viewing list, the Toshogu Shrine was constructed using various architectural styles and rich decoration and contains many extremely valuable sculptures. Other must-see attractions include the Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park, the Kanmangafuchi Abyss, and the amazing day-lilies along the hiking trails on the Kirifuri-kogen Highlands. Foodies will have fun sampling several very local specialties such as soba noodles, yokan, and nikko-yuba.
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Located just about in the center of Japan on the main island of Honshu, Osaka is remarkably well-equipped to welcome visitors, making it an ideal gateway to the many splendors of Japan. The city has no less than five tourist information centers manned by a team of multi-lingual staff who are geared-up to help you make the most of your visit. You can get a good overview of the main tourist attractions using the hop-on hop-off tourist bus or by joining one of several water tours available. You can download the free Osaka Tourist app, and the website offers no less than 20 suggested walking tours to suit all interests from history and architecture, arts and the theatre, ancient and modern culture, shopping tours, family tours, and foodie tours.
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Sopporo is a large city situated at the northernmost tip of Japan and is home to approximately one fifth of the country’s total population. One of the best ways to navigate such a large city without missing many of the highlights is to join a one-day bus tour – several itineraries are available so you can choose one that best suits your interests. Outdoor enthusiasts can escape the busy city and spend some time walking and hiking in several city parks or go a little further afield to beautiful Lake Shikotsu, where you can visit a bird sanctuary or relax in a hot spring pool. The city has much to offer art lovers, who can visit several galleries and sculpture gardens, and is famous for its cuisine using fresh regional ingredients.
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These days it is easy for visitors to reach Shikoku (one of Japan’s four main islands) by road or railway, since three massive bridges have been constructed to link the island to Honshu. Shikoku is an interesting island to visit and offers a good mix of historic, cultural, and outdoor attractions. Many visitors come to make a spiritual pilgrimage along the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route, which includes 88 Buddhist temples and several other sacred sites; walking the entire route would take about a month but you can sample a few of these peaceful places in a day or two using a car or bus. You can try canoeing or rafting on the Shimanto River, and hiking Mount Ishizuchi is very popular. In addition, you can visit the botanical gardens, go whale watching, and sample local food specialties.
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Shirakawa-Go is a historic mountain village located in Gifu Prefecture, roughly in the center of Japan. What makes this remote village really special is that you can not only enjoy remarkable natural beauty, but also learn about the unique gassho-style of building, which has endured for centuries. The local tourist office will supply you with walking maps and recommendations for visiting the Ogi-machi UNESCO World Heritage Center, where you can see several of the famous gassho-style buildings dating back to the 1800s. Just 15 minutes away you can visit the Hirase hot spring area, where you can sample the Oshirakawa springs, which are rumored to restore youthful vitality to the skin. In addition, you can visit various interesting museums, temples, and beautiful outdoor areas for walking and hiking.
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Located just 80 minutes south of Tokyo, Tateyama has a mild climate and attracts visitors all year around to see some of Japan’s best flowers and beaches. In winter a simple drive through the region will reward you with the sight of fields of blooming poppies and rape, but the best season is spring, when the landscape is alive with cherry blossom, azaleas, camellias, and many more. The beaches are wonderful for soaking up the sun and you can enjoy a variety of watersports, including swimming, surfing, snorkeling, and diving around the beautiful offshore coral reefs. History and culture seekers will find more than enough lovely old temples and shrines to keep them busy.
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Located near the center of Honshu Island, Yamanashi Prefecture encompasses large areas of unspoiled nature, including three national parks and abundant farmlands. People come to Yamanashi primarily to escape the city and outdoor activities are very popular. You can go hiking, walking, and cycling through several extremely scenic areas and then relax your aching muscles with a good soak in one of the many onsen (natural hot springs). For unrivalled views of iconic Mount Fuji, you can ride the Mount Kachikachi Ropeway (cable car) and take a boat trip on one of the Five Lakes. The entire region is known for its crafts and you will be able to see silk, crystal, and paper crafting as well as sampling fine regional wines and the local specialty of hoto – thick noodles and vegetables in a satisfying miso broth.
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You’ll find the modern port city of Yokohama on the Pacific coast of central Japan, where it is the official gateway to the country. Yokohama prides itself on being a center of culture and art where theatre lovers can enjoy exploring the Yokohama Noh Theater (to see traditional Japanese masked musical drama), or see Japanese comedy at Yokohama Nigiwai-za. History lovers can visit Sankeien Garden, where they can see a collection of historic buildings set in a very beautiful classic Japanese garden. To get a great overview of the city, you can head to the Sky Garden observation platform at the Yokohama Landmark Tower and then explore all the tourist attractions in the Minato Mirai area. Foodies can seize the chance to taste dozens of different noodles at the Cup Noodle Museum, while children will love the Yokohama Anpanman Children’s Museum.
25 Best Places to Visit in Japan
- Tokyo, Photo: Courtesy of orpheus26 - Fotolia.com
- Kyoto, Photo: Courtesy of leeyiutung - Fotolia.com
- Beppu, Photo: Courtesy of naoko - Fotolia.com
- Fukuoka, Photo: Courtesy of pong111 - Fotolia.com
- Hakone, Photo: Courtesy of jdavenport85 - Fotolia.com
- Hakuba, Photo: Courtesy of skpw - Fotolia.com
- Hida Takayama, Photo: Courtesy of Basico - Fotolia.com
- Hiroshima, Photo: Courtesy of Fotolia.com
- Ishigaki, Photo: Courtesy of samspicerphoto - Fotolia.com
- Kamakura, Photo: Courtesy of SANCHAI - Fotolia.com
- Kanazawa, Photo: Courtesy of rainer_81 - Fotolia.com
- Kobe, Photo: Courtesy of Peera - Fotolia.com
- Matsumoto, Photo: Courtesy of torsakarin - Fotolia.com
- Miyajima, Photo: Courtesy of J Westermann-Blawert - Fotolia.com
- Nagasaki, Photo: Courtesy of kuri2000 - Fotolia.com
- Nagoya, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Nara, Photo: Courtesy of orpheus26 - Fotolia.com
- Nikko, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Osaka, Photo: Courtesy of soraneko - Fotolia.com
- Sopporo, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Shikoku, Photo: Courtesy of mrnovel80 - Fotolia.com
- Shirakawa-Go, Photo: Courtesy of ookawaphoto - Fotolia.com
- Tateyama, Photo: Courtesy of ake1150 - Fotolia.com
- Yamanashi Prefecture, Photo: Courtesy of eyetronic - Fotolia.com
- Yokohama, Photo: Courtesy of ziggy - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of eyetronic - Fotolia.com
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