The Best Places to Visit in Japan

The Best Places to Visit in Japan

Land of the Rising Sun: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Japan

Darlene Aberin
PUBLISHED ONDecember 29, 2023

Experience the allure of Japan, a place where old-world charm, nature's wonders, and rich culture meet seamlessly. Our guide helps you explore historic treasures, captivating landscapes, deep cultural immersion, and the exciting modern world. These unique aspects make Japan a must-see destination. With this mix of the old and new, you're in for an unforgettable adventure.

Historical Treasures

History is a remarkable tale to tell, and nothing narrates these stories better than the historical treasures that have withstood the test of time.

Ancient Temples

Ancient temples, inherent with deep cultural significance and ancient customs, are perfect narrators of these ancient tales.

1. Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji – The Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji is a picturesque sight nestled in the harmonious city of Kyoto. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Golden Pavilion has been casting its golden glow over reflective waters for centuries, enticing travelers to reveal its historical secrets.

Steeped in symbolism, the Golden Pavilion is a tribute to the richness of Japanese history. Its golden hue, shimmering across the pond, symbolizes purity and denotes the cleansing of negative thoughts. This is all harmonized by the serene Zen garden enveloping it, making the Kinkaku-ji a peaceful sanctuary that has held religious and cultural importance for generations.

2. Fushimi Inari – A Path of Torii Gates

Our next stop takes us through the mesmerizing path of Fushimi Inari, a famous Shinto shrine. A sight to behold, the shrine presents a path lined with thousands of bright, vermilion torii gates, creating a literal and spiritual pathway towards the divine.

Each gate is imbued with significance. Donated by individuals or businesses aspiring for good luck and prosperity, these gates collectively narrate countless prayers and hopes. The mountaintop, accessible through several hiking trails, offers a panoramic view over Kyoto, perfectly accompanying the spiritual journey that this path purveys.

Historic Castles

While temples introduce us to the spiritual heart of Japan, it's the country's historic castles that unravel the narrative of Japan's ancient political dynamics and power struggles.

1. Himeji Castle – The Original Castle

Often hailed as one of Japan's most spectacular castles, Himeji Castle is a pristine example of Japan's original castle architecture that dates back to the 17th century. Standing tall as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a witness to the nation's eventful past. What sets Himeji Castle apart is its intricate architecture—a blend of defensive features and elegant aesthetics. It's surrounded by lush gardens that provide contrasting tranquillity to the fortified walls.

Despite witnessing wars and sustaining natural calamities, this castle has remained unscathed, retaining its original structure—a demonstration of its resilience and incredible architectural strength. Through its construction and survival, Himeji Castle played an indispensable role in Japanese history, which is certain to captivate visitors as they traverse its storied halls and corridors.

2. Osaka Castle – Symbol of Power and Legacy

Osaka Castle, nestled in Japan's bustling city of Osaka, is another remarkable testament to Japanese history. Built in the 16th century, it reveals the story of Japan's prolonged political turmoil and power struggles.

Through its imposing stone walls and multi-tiered towers, Osaka Castle embodies power and legacy. Its robust exterior narrates tales of fierce battles, while its elaborate interior speaks of regal majesty and splendor. Visitors can scale to its observation deck, which offers a panoramic view of the city, further enriched by the castle's captivating historical narratives.

Natural Wonders

Japan is not only known for its historical and cultural treasures, but it also prides itself on its natural wonders. From majestic mountains to tranquil lakes, each presents an awe-inspiring spectacle that captures the essence of Japan's undeniable natural charm.

Mt. Fuji and Surroundings

Now, let's embark on an odyssey through two of Japan's most iconic natural landscapes - the areas surrounding Mt. Fuji, including the mesmerizing Lake Kawaguchiko and Chureito Pagoda, and Lake Ashi alongside the Hakone Open-Air Museum.

1. Lake Kawaguchiko and Chureito Pagoda

Situated at the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan's tallest peak, Lake Kawaguchiko, offers a mesmerizing reflection of the mountain on tranquil days. Close by, the Chureito Pagoda enhances the area's allure. Climb the hill to enjoy a sweeping view of Mt. Fuji, especially stunning during the pink-flushed cherry blossom season. Lake Kawaguchiko and Chureito Pagoda collectively deliver breathtaking views and serene surroundings, encapsulating Japan's scenic beauty.

2. Lake Ashi and Hakone Open-Air Museum

Located in picturesque Hakone, Lake Ashi offers an enchanting view of Mt. Fuji and verdant landscapes, delighting nature enthusiasts on lake cruises.

Nearby, the Hakone Open-Air Museum combines art and nature, showcasing captivating installations amid lush gardens with Mt. Fuji as a backdrop. This unique fusion enthralls both art aficionados and nature admirers.

Hot Springs and Onsen Towns

Japan's geothermic activity has given birth to numerous hot springs, known locally as onsens. These natural baths, rich in healing minerals, are found throughout the country and have given rise to numerous hot spring towns.

1. Kusatsu Onsen – Soothing Hot Springs

Nestled in Gunma Prefecture's mountains, Kusatsu Onsen is known for its therapeutic hot springs. Its waters, high in acidity and minerals, reputedly offer numerous health benefits, attracting wellness-seekers.

Kusatsu stands out with its cultural bathing practices. Visitors indulge in traditional baths, dressed in customary attire, blending cultural engagement with the onsen's soothing experience. Kusatsu's scenic locale and revitalizing hot springs compose a perfect spot for unwinding.

2. Beppu – Japan's Hot Spring Resort

Beppu, stationed on Kyushu Island, is Japan's prime hot spring resort. It boasts an impressive assortment of baths, from conventional hot water to unusual mud and sand baths, all against a stunning natural backdrop.

These baths, complemented by diverse cultural rituals, offer a holistic wellness experience, reflecting the age-old customs of onsen towns amidst captivating volcanic landscapes. Beppu's bath variety and wellness advantages create an unmissable hot spring experience.

Nature Reserves

For those seeking to connect with nature, Japan offers an abundance of natural spaces brimming with biodiversity, scenic beauty, and boundless serenity.

1. Nikko National Park – A Haven for Nature Lovers

Nikko National Park, cradled in Tochigi Prefecture's mountains, provides a haven for nature enthusiasts. Its beauty spans cascading waterfalls, tranquil lakes, and the splendid Kegon Falls. Besides rich biodiversity and picturesque scenery, the park houses sacred sites, such as UNESCO's World Heritage Site and the Toshogu Shrine. Nikko National Park unites natural marvels and cultural legacy, offering visitors an enthralling experience of Japan's exquisite landscapes.

2. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park – A Symphony of Landscapes

Featuring Mt. Fuji, Hakone, and the Izu Peninsula, the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park exhibits a range of landscapes, including pristine beaches, soothing hot springs, and forested mountains, encapsulating Japan's natural splendor.

Offering vibrant ecosystems, the park captivates both casual and devoted nature fans. Explore Izu Peninsula's cliffs, hike Mt. Fuji's green slopes, or experience Hakone's artistic and natural fusion.

Cultural Experiences

Japan's cultural experiences span centuries and are a testament to a rich heritage. They blend traditional practices with the contemporary, resulting in a captivating fusion of times past and present.

Traditional Arts and Gardens

Nowhere is this more prominent than in the domain of traditional arts and gardens, which bestow a sense of beauty, tranquility, and philosophical insight.

1. Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa – A Masterpiece of Landscaping

Residing in historic Kanazawa, the Kenrokuen Garden, celebrated as one of Japan's finest, offers intricately manicured grounds. Each element, from robust trees to serene ponds, showcases nature's grace and careful stewardship.

The garden's beauty shifts with the seasons, each adding its distinct palette. The allure of Kenrokuen extends beyond aesthetics, reflecting the sophistication of traditional Japanese landscaping techniques. A visit to Kenrokuen offers not just visual pleasure but insights into history, landscaping artistry, and a peaceful retreat amid Kanazawa's urban buzz.

2. Yayoi Kusama's Art and Higashi Chaya – Modern Art in Traditional Settings

In Kanazawa's historic district, Higashi Chaya, renowned for preserved teahouses, traditional charm meets modernity in Yayoi Kusama's art installations. Kusama's vibrant, stimulating work integrates beautifully with the district's old-world aesthetics, achieving an exceptional blend and immersive cultural encounter.

In Higashi Chaya, visitors don't just observe art. They evolve with it, uncover new viewpoints, and appreciate the fusion of contrasting styles.

Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine, celebrated for its aesthetics, taste, and traditions, offers a delightful journey through Japan's cultural flavors. Its wide variety of gastronomic experiences invites you to relish its culinary delights.

1. Tsukiji Fish Market – Dive into the Freshest Seafood

In the heart of the bustling city of Tokyo lies the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is a seafood paradise, offering an extensive and fresh assortment of oceanic marvels. The market's energetic ambiance complements a labyrinth of vibrant stalls filled with fresh seafood.

Here, visitors aren't just spectators but are involved in the culinary adventure — learning sushi-making, interacting with locals, and exploring diverse flavors and textures. Indulging in Tsukiji's sushi or sashimi, therefore becomes more than just a meal — it's an intimate tie with the sea and its beneficiaries.

2. Exploring Local Flavors in Kyoto – A Gastronomic Adventure

Beyond its temples and gardens, Kyoto boasts a captivating food culture. It draws travelers to unearth local culinary secrets that mix age-old traditions with modern innovation.

From luxurious kaiseki dining—Japan's traditional multi-course meal—to simple yet tasty street food, each Kyoto dish tastes the city's rich culinary heritage. These experiences connect you to Kyoto's culture, expanding beyond flavor into cultural engagement.

Modern Marvels

In Japan, the old and the new harmoniously blend. Amid its well-preserved cultural history and natural beauty, the country also highlights a knack for welcoming the future.

Urban Delights

The epitome of this modernity is most noticeable in its urban delights - a perfect blend of bustling city life and enticing entertainment.

1. Tokyo's Shibuya Crossing – A Concrete Jungle in Motion

At Tokyo's core, Shibuya Crossing serves as an emblem of the city's unfaltering energy and dynamic character. Known as the world's busiest pedestrian crossing, it's a human ballet where hundreds intersect with each traffic light change.

Surrounded by neon-clad skyscrapers, Shibuya Crossing epitomizes Tokyo's urban vibrance. Its lively streets and unique neighborhoods uncover Tokyo as an enticing urban paradise.

Shibuya Crossing isn't merely a Tokyo symbol. It represents Japan's embrace and innovation of modern life, presenting an awe-inspiring spectacle.

2. Universal Studios Japan – Fantasy and Fun Combined

Apart from urban thrills, Japan presents another fascinating modern marvel - Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. Here, fantasy merges with reality, ushering a terrain brimming with thrill and enjoyment.

The park offers plenty of attractions such as exhilarating rides, captivating live performances, and immersive experiences with beloved movies and characters. From Harry Potter's magical world to the exciting Jurassic Park, Universal Studios Japan captivates all ages.

It's not just about rides or shows; it's about the sense of wonder, stepping into disparate worlds, and creating cherished lifelong memories.

Maritime History and Islands

Japan not only boasts sprawling urban landscapes and sumptuous culinary experiences but also enriches its visitors with a deeply rooted history and serene natural beauty.

1. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park – Remembrance and Reflection

In Hiroshima's busy landscape stands the poignant Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park — a symbol of hope, resilience, and tranquility, reminding us of the city's tragic history and subsequent rebirth.

The park harbors several monuments, museums, and the notable Atomic Bomb Dome - a stark skeletal reminder of nuclear warfare's horrors. As visitors roam, each site encourages reflection on war's destruction and peace's crucial role.

A visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park isn't just a tourist activity but a heartfelt historical journey that inspires mindfulness, remembrance, and contemplation of our common humanity and the necessity for peaceful cohabitation.

2. Iriomote Island – Untouched Beauty in the Yaeyama Archipelago

Departing from Hiroshima's heavy history, find solace in the tranquil allure of Iriomote Island. Situated in the Yaeyama Archipelago, the island contrasts with mainland Japan's bustling cities.

Dubbed Japan's secret paradise, Iriomote is an unspoiled haven of natural splendor. Explore its immaculate beaches, venture into dense mangrove forests that showcase rich biodiversity, and encounter unique wildlife, such as the endemic Iriomote cat.

Iriomote Island offers a serene retreat where time slows, inviting immersion in its pristine charm and peacefulness, making it a true haven for nature enthusiasts.

Practical Tips

Embarking on a journey in Japan while fully understanding the nation's practical aspects is essential for a well-rounded and fulfilling experience.

Safety and Driving Considerations

For a trouble-free and respectful journey in Japan, let's fortify our understanding of Japanese roads, traffic, and traveler etiquette.

1. Navigating Japanese Roads and Traffic – A Guide for Travelers

For many, driving in Japan might feel unfamiliar, especially if you're using an International Driving Permit. Hence, knowing specific road rules and norms is crucial:

1. Driving Side: In Japan, you'll be driving on the left side of the road.

2. Speed Limits: Observe the posted speed limits: 40-50 km/h in urban areas, 50-80
km/h outside urban areas, and 100 km/h on expressways.

3. Road Signs: Familiarize yourself with Japanese road signs to ensure safe driving. Many
signs also include English text.

4. Seatbelts and Child Seats: The driver and passengers must wear seatbelts at all times,
with children under six requiring suitable child safety seats.

5. Strict DUI Laws: Japan maintains a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the
influence of alcohol. Penalties are severe, and even a small amount of consumed
alcohol can lead to arrest.

2. Cultural Etiquette for Travelers – Respecting Traditions

To enrich your Japan journey, respecting local customs and traditions is crucial. Understanding Japanese etiquette enables graceful interaction with locals:

  • Bowing: Recognize the importance of bowing in Japanese culture as a form of greeting, gratitude, or apology. The deeper the bow, the greater the respect demonstrated.
  • Shoes: Remember to remove your shoes when entering a Japanese home or traditional establishment; slippers are often provided.
  • Chopstick Etiquette: Refrain from sticking your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice and avoid passing food with chopsticks, as these actions resemble funeral rites.
  • Quietness: Keep your voice down in public spaces, such as trains or buses, as a courtesy to others. Loud conversations or phone calls are considered impolite.


Efficient transportation is key for a smooth Japanese adventure. Get acquainted with the Japan Rail Pass and major airports like Haneda and Kansai International for a hassle-free experience.

1. Japan Rail Pass – The Key to Efficient Travel

The Japan Rail Pass is your ticket to explore Japan's extensive rail network. It grants unlimited access to Japan Railways (JR) lines, including Shinkansen bullet trains, for a set period:

  • Advantages: The pass offers potential savings for long-distance trips while allowing flexible on-off privileges on JR trains.
  • Types: Choose between standard (Ordinary Pass) or luxurious Green Cars (Green Pass), available for 7, 14, or 21 days.
  • Tips: Plan your route to include long-distance journeys, maximizing pass benefits. Reserve and cancel passes at JR ticket offices for schedule flexibility.

The Japan Rail Pass ensures simplified, economical, and comfortable travel, whether exploring big cities or countryside tranquility.

2. Accessing Japan's Airports – Haneda and Kansai International

Japan boasts several major international airports, with Haneda (Tokyo) and Kansai International (Osaka) among the busiest. Let's look at these two prominent airports:

  • Haneda Airport: Located in Tokyo, Haneda connects with major areas via the monorail and Keikyu Line. Buses, taxis, and limousine buses ensure easy transportation.
  • Kansai International Airport: Positioned on a manmade island in Osaka Bay, Kansai International connects with the city through JR-West's Haruka Limited Express train, Nankai Railways, buses, and taxis.

Being familiar with the transport options from these airports ensures hassle-free transfers and an enjoyable travel experience.


Japan, with its unique blend of ancient temples, breathtaking natural beauty, immersive cultural experiences, and impressive modern feats, provides travelers with a rich and diverse palette of experiences. Use this guide as your compass, poised to navigate you through the captivating saga that unfolds at every corner.

Be it delving into age-old traditions or immersing yourself in the vibrant city hustle, your journey in Japan is bound to be one brimming with delightful surprises. So, start your exploratory journey where the past intertwines with the present, welcoming you to a solemn adventure that Japan has to offer.

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