Beautiful, mystical and extraordinary in equal measures Japan, usually known for industrialization, is also home to historic shrines, temples, architecture, world-class restaurants, imperial palaces and natural wonders in the world.
In short, it has something to offer for everyone and a visit here I promise a visit to this extraordinary Asian country will create unforgettable memories that you will cherish for an entire lifetime. From my many visits to this incredible country, this is my personal choice for 15 of the most beautiful places to visit in Japan…
1. Kyoto – a gorgeous place to visit in Japan filled with gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses
Kyoto is one of the most favourite Japanese cities for tourists. From the iconic temples, palaces, bamboo forests, delightful gardens to the rich and the vibrant culture, Kyoto is surely going to be a highlight of your journey.
Some of the famous points to sightsee in Koyoto includes temples of Kinkaku-Ji, Ginkaku-Ji, Kyyomiza-dera, and the Arashiyama bamboo forest. Check out my detailed article on What to do in Kyoto.
2. Tokyo – the fun, vibrant, quirky and bustling capital of Japan
Tokyo, home to around 12 million inhabitants and the country’s capital, is a popular tourist area in Japan. It is also the eastern capital of the world.
The city boasts many eating and shopping places. Although it’s known for many things, public transportation is one thing that supersedes everything else.
You can go anywhere in the city via train. Tokyo is also famous for its Anime productions, Harajuku fashion and its keen eye for quirkiness! You’ll have a lot of fun here I promise and make sure you stay in one of the many incredible – and crazy – hotels in Tokyo. For more information on the city check out how to backpack Tokyo in this great guide.
3. Matsue – the stunning area known as the ‘samurai city’
Matsue, the samurai city, boasts charming cultural and historic sights including a lovely castle and some museums including the intriguing Inari Shrine’s fox statues.
Located on the Lake Shinji shores, it would give you an old-fashioned feeling as fishermen are seen catching fish by casting their nets in the lake. The peaceful environment of the city would make you spend more time than usual.
4. Nara – home to 8th-century temples and artwork and super cute deer
Nara, famous for devout Buddhists, is another beautiful city in Japan. You will find several temples and museums depicting the history.
Apart from historic places, you will also see wild animals running around the city (specifically deer which roam in Nara Park, site of T?dai-ji temple).
5. Hakone and Mount Fuji – a gorgeous mountainous town known for its hot springs resorts and Japan’s famous volcano
Hakone, famous for Mount Fuji, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Japan. However, sightseeing Mount Fuji is not easy as it’s mostly hidden by clouds.
However, there are many landmarks where you can see this mountain. Moreover, Hakone has many other things to do other than sightseeing Mount Fuji to promise a great time.
There are different transport modes available from the train, bus to boat and cable car which makes looping through other sights fun and easy.
6. Osaka – a large port city with great street food and gardens
Osaka is more than just a port city. It is home to Universal Studios Japan and it’s a particularly beautiful place in Japan with a mix of the modern and the traditional.
Other attractions include the Dotonbori Bridge and the Osaka Castle Park. It also has several eating places from restaurants, foot cars to shops. There is a Kids Plaza that is a must-visit for families traveling with children.
7. Himeji – home to the centuries-old, white Himeji Castle
This city is easily one of the most stunning places to go in Japan and Himeji-jo Castle is the main attraction of the city. You will also find various samurai houses with beautiful gardens in the surroundings of this castle.
In addition to this castle, you can visit a couple of museums for a history lesson. Like all the other Japanese cities, you will find the usual temples, restaurants, and shrines scattered throughout the city.
8. Beppu – a city known for its spectacular hot springs and spa resorts
Beppu is famous for the hot springs (onsens). There are about 3000 springs in the city that keeps it busy with tourists.
The mist and steam of the springs give a magical air to the town. In addition to the hot springs, it also has amazing architecture.
9. Kobe – known for being one of the most vibrant cities to visit in Japan
Kobe is an attractive city located on a hillside, between water and the Mount Rokko. This was one of the port cities of Japan. You will find religious buildings of every major religion in the city.
The city offers excellent restaurants and cafes with a busy nightlife to make for quality time! Some famous sights are also situated nearby which can be explored by using Kobe as a gateway.
10. Nikko – a beautiful city in Japan known for its shrines and stunning natural landscapes
Nikko, located a few hours away to the North of Tokyo, has some UNESCO World Heritage sites. Most of the sites are found on the hillside. Toshogu Shrine is one of the major attractions in Nikko.
It has beautifully decorated red and gold buildings in between the ancient cedar trees. The temple town is also famous for its lovely autumn colors.
11. Nagasaki – a city set on a large natural harbor which is known for its wartime tragedies
Nagasaki, usually known for the atomic bombings during WWII, is a picturesque city located amidst hills, For this reason, you will find various museums and memorials dedicated to the horrors and destruction caused by the atomic bombs.
However, Nagasaki is more than just a war-affected city. It depicts a mix of western and eastern culture and is home to many churches and temples.
12. Koya-san – a small but scenic town which is home to a huge temple settlement
Koya-san is a secluded yet interesting small temple town located amidst the forest-covered mountains of Kansai. It is a great place for exploring the traditional side of the country.
Get a taste of ‘life as a monk’ by staying in a temple lodging. A temple stay will make for a great experience. You can plan your tour to this town from Osaka or Kyoto.
13. Tsumago – a protected place which feels like an open-air museum village
Tsumago is a beautiful mountain village in the Kiso valley. It is one of the best towns in Japan that are preserved to take you back in time, with traffic-free streets and well preserved wooden inns.
Tsumago also offers hiking trails for adventure lovers.
14. Kamakura – a seaside Japanese city which was once the political center of medieval Japan
Kamakura is worth visiting if you want something different from the usual surroundings of the big city.
It is home to the famous Kotoku-temple, several hiking trails, the lush scenery and the beautiful bamboo forests.
All this makes it a great place for nature enthusiasts.
15. Sendai – a vibrant city known for its festivals
Sendai is known for the famous festivals that are held every year. Located in the Tohuku region, the city gives a detailed look into the local culture and is mostly used as a gateway city for exploring the nearby wilderness.
The city’s leafy streets are always filled with tourists who love visiting it for Tanabata Matsuri (star festival).
The city has an active nightlife. You can also visit the nearby hot springs and the city of Matsushima (famous for some of the most breathtaking views in Japan). We also have posts on…
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Emma-Clair Ni Clearaigh – writer and photographer
With itchy feet, an inquisitive nature and an ardent wanderlust, Emma Clair has always been a traveller at heart. Hailing from the Emerald Isle she calls a small coastal town near Dublin home, but has lived in a few countries including Saigon, Vietnam where she resided for over a year, now she balances travel and travel writing with teaching and a passion for vintage interior design. She counts supping on Bloody Marys on a rooftop in Manhattan, downing Singapore slings at the Raffles Hotel, daring a paraglide on the Grand Cayman, spending an exotic Christmas in Malaysia and exploring the Angkor Wat, Cambodia as her all time favourite travel moments. Although, she’ll always have a special place in her heart for the city where she makes her annual pilgrimages – Paris, her true city of lights. Find Emma-Clair on Instagram or Facebook.