Japan was not only known for its polite citizens and very tidy setting where you can find Koi fishes swimming in their canals, as it was ranked 4th out of 141 countries in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report during 2017, which was the highest in Asia. It has continually been competitive in different aspects like health and hygiene, safety and security, and even for business travel. It is an amazing place filled with unique tourist destinations and has a stunning and diverse history. Japan is filled with wonders from traditional to modern parts. It could provide you with pristine natural scenery, a shopper’s paradise, delicious Japanese cuisine, various sports and activities, beautiful temples, zen gardens, its people, society and culture. As you plan your next vacation to a large and busy country like Japan, here’s a top 10 list of must visits you might surely not want to miss.
If you don’t have enough time to roam around Japan, Kyoto can be one of your top priorities. This ancient capital offers a lot of reasons to visit, from historic temples, colorful shrines to rich culture. It consists of over 1,600 historic Buddhist temples which are mostly dating back more than a millennium. It also boasts the famous red torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine which you can see in some of their anime shows. Some of the other famous shrines found in Kyoto are Heian Jingu and Yasaka Jinja. It has also one of the world’s largest collections of UNESCO World Heritage Sites including 12 Buddhist temples, 3 Shinto shrines and 1 historic castle that you must surely not miss in your trip to Kyoto. Take time learning how to cook traditional Japanese cuisine and try taking the train to the village of Kibune or walking across the valley to the beautiful Kurama-dera temple. Also, don’t miss out on their magical Kyoto cherry blossom spots if you have the chance to visit in late-March or early-April. Kyoto is the historic heart of Japan that is just waiting for you to enjoy its memorable town filled with experiences that you will surely not forget.
If Kyoto is focused on featuring the traditional side of Japan, Tokyo is its ultramodern counterpart. It is famous for its busy city life filled with skyscrapers, noisy arcades, busy pedestrian crossings, and lots of incredibly delicious restaurants that are a must trys. If you have that great sense of passion for eating, you will never run out of choices while in Tokyo. Even vegetarians here eat so well. If your main goal was to travel instead, Tokyo also offers destinations that will not let you get bored even for a second. Visit the brilliant DisneySea or the neighboring Tokyo Disneyland if you are into theme parks and cool rides. On the other hand, if you just want to have a special date night, you can gaze at the night skyline from the free Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku or walk across the famous Shibuya Crossing. There’s endless entertainment that you can find in Tokyo. If you ever had a hard time thinking where to go first, you can start with its top-rated tourist attractions like The Imperial Palace, Ginza District (where you can shop all you want), The Sensō-ji Temple, Ueno Park and Zoo, Tokyo National Museum, Meiji Shrine and a lot of destinations you can go discover.
If you get tired or are not fond of noisy and crowded places, Takayama is the right place for you. It is an absolutely gorgeous tiny town located on the edge of the Japan Alps and is considered one of the best less-visited places to be visited in Japan. Enjoy the tranquility while walking to their streets filled with traditional wooden houses, colourful shrines, neatly shaped trees, and bright red bridges over the river. The simple life that is seen in Takayama can help you get some peace of mind while you are out of work or school. Try wandering the old town in the early morning to avoid crowds and just simply appreciate a bright new day in Japan. You can also go straight to the morning markets to buy a couple of stuff or something delicious. Other activities may include seeing extravagant floats at the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, visiting the Hida Folk Village to see and appreciate their traditional thatched houses, trying their mitarashi-dango (rice balls grilled in soy) from a street stall, or just simply do cycling through the countryside with Satoyama Experience.
There are Japan cycling tours that are offered, there’s theHida Satoyama cycling experience. You can choose between a standard guided tour, which is a 3 and a half hours cycling excursion or a half, private guided tour which takes 2 and half hours and is perfect for beginner cyclists or those with children. Have fun experiencing the local culture without having to experience the difficulties of a rugged trek.
Kanazawa is considered one of the best cities in Japan and is also a great go-to place when you want to go to a quieter place besides Kyoto, as it has fewer foreign tourists. It is sometimes called “Little Kyoto” for a good reason. Experience their geisha districts along with their preserved wooden buildings. Don’t miss one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan which is the Kenroku-en Garden as it features a variety of flowering trees that provide the garden with a different look for each season. There is also a stunning castle and many art museums which you can explore while you are here. One example is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art which focuses on installations, video and mixed-media pieces that could be defined as playful, energetic and provokes the mind to think for deeper meanings. If you are looking for a place to buy which has a lesser crowd than Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji, you can visit the Omicho Market where you can find locally caught seafood, as well as a good selection of fruit and vegetables and other Japanese foodstuffs. It is also more spacious than Kyoto’s Nishiki so that you can have a more comfortable experience while buying certain things.
You may be familiar with Mount Fuji which is usually mentioned when talking about Japan. Yes, it can be seen in Hakone and is the highest mountain in Japan rising up to 12,388 feet (3,776 metres). It can be viewed along with the classic Hakone view Lake Ashinoko found near the Moto Hakone area. Besides the mountain, you can also buy a Hakone Free Pass in order to experience doing the Hakone Loop by hopping on and off different modes of transportation like trains, buses, cable cars and even private boats. You can also try eating a black egg cooked in the hot sulphur springs at volcanic Owakudani which may look weird to you but a classic favorite of the Japanese. As Hakone is a mountainous area known for its natural beauty and historical sites, it is also known for the onsen (hot springs). Though some international travelers skip onsen, the Japanese couldn’t imagine visiting Hakone without dipping into one as it is like visiting a famous destination without trying its best food. Take a visit at the Hakone Shrine as well as it is an interesting old growth forest at the end of Lake Ashinoko that is lined with lanterns which could make you feel like you are walking your way to a mysterious wonderland. Other places you may like to visit while in Hakone are Owakudani, Old Tokaido Road, Hakone Ryokan, Hakone Detached Palace, Moto Hakone, Hakone Tozan Railway, and Hakone Open Air Museum.
Koya-san, also known as Mount Koya, is considered one of the most interesting places in Japan if you want to experience the traditional side of the country other than Kyoto. It is a secluded and sacred temple town located in the forest-covered mountains of Kansai and is one of the best places to get a taste of life as a monk by staying in a shukubo or temple lodging. You can also wander around the amazing beauty of the Okunoin forest cemetery, check in a simple tatami room and experience the delicious Buddhist meal that is called shojin ryoji. Wake up early for a chanting and meditation ceremony with the monks. Make the most out of your stay in this fascinating temple by enjoying the overflowing peace and calmness of the place. Have a chance to clear up your mind before you go back to the noisy roads of the city.
Nara is said to be Japan’s first permanent capital and is filled with historic treasures including a lot of UNESCO world heritage sites. Boasting three UNESCO World Heritage Sites including a total of 20 individual venues, Nara is the jewel in Japan’s World Heritage crown which makes it a top attraction of Japan and is a rewarding experience while visiting the temples and looking at a wild deer in Nara Park. The Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha) at Todaiji is one of the main sights because it is the largest wooden building in the world and prepared for an immense sight. Inside you can find the 15-metre tall gold and bronze statue of Buddha that dates back to 751. You can spend a full day here after a day from Kyoto to appreciate its highlights.
Osaka has also been famous to the tourists for neon craziness of Dotonbori, the amazing variety of food that even vegetarians could enjoy, friendly and polite people, affordable prices, and the scary rides and the world famous brilliant Harry Potter World at Universal Studios Japan where you can taste Butterbeer and experience what it feels like to be a wizard if you are a Harry Potter fan. When staying in Osaka, renting an Airbnb apartment in Shinsaibashi is an ideal location as it is quiet but close to lots of cool shops and restaurants and in walking distance of Dotonbori.
Nikko is known for its temples and is a UNESCO world heritage site in the mountains a few hours north of Tokyo. It is a cool retreat from the city and is famous for its vibrant autumn colours. When visiting Nikko, you must not skip the Toshogu Shrine which is its main attraction and is described as a stunning complex with more than a dozen lavishly decorated red and gold buildings amongst huge, ancient cedar trees. The site is famous for tourists so it is recommended to visit the shrine early to avoid the crowds. You can hike up the mountain to the peaceful Takino shrine, eat sushi at Komekichi Kozushi, have a nice photograph at the bright red Shinkyo bridge, play games at atmospheric Futarasan-jinja, explore Taiyuinbyo or just munch on dango (grilled rice balls on a stick) from a street stall. Spending a night or two here is really a great experience to have.
Take a nice photograph with the picture-perfect traditional mountain village of the Kiso Valley in the background as Tsumago is one of the well -preserved post towns in Japan where you may feel like you have stepped back in time with the traffic-less streets of beautifully restored wooden inns. Appreciate the beauty of its wooden craft shops, noodle restaurants, Japanese confectionery shops and historic inns or hatago. You can hike parts of the trail where Tsumago was once a stop on the Nakasendo Way between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo) during the Edoperiod 300 years ago. During a normal sunny or cloudy day, it could feel like a scenic and easy walk to the village of Magome in about two to three hours. If you want to keep the Edo-era atmosphere, you can stay in a traditional ryokan or minshuku (a simpler family-run inn). The neighbouring Magome has more choice including the budget Chaya Hotel or historic Tajimaya if you manage to visit it as well.